Her Letters To Lovecraft: Jonquil Leiber

But first I must explain that my husband, Fritz Leiber, Jr, son of the Shakespearian actor, (who often played in Providence in time past) met Lovecraft through myself and formed a delightful friendship. We were the recipients of many letters now in the hands of the Wisconsin people, Eerleth [sic] et al. Many of the things you touched on in your article, we knew a little more in detail due to this correspondence – about his brief marriage for instance. And since I wa [sic] more interested in Lovecraft as a man or human than I was as a writer, (I lean to the Montague Rhode James, plus the weird man known as Summers type of mystery having been brought up in a draft old English castle – I’m an Englishwoman) so that I learned a number of things about him that his more well bred correspondents did. The man literally starved to death.
—Jonquil Leiber to William Townley Scott, 18 May 1944, MSS. John Hay Library

Jonquil Ellen Stephens married Fritz Reuter Leiber, Jr. on 18 January 1936. Fritz was working as an actor and pursuing a career as a writer; he had met and dated Jonquil at the University of Chicago in 1933-1934. They shared a love of supernatural fiction and poetry, and she encouraged her husband’s interests. On the 14th of October 1936, Jonquil wrote to Lovecraft.

Then in the late summer my wife, with a bold directness I had been unable to conceive for myself, wrote a letter to Lovecraft care of Weird Tales. A few days later the great man replied with what we thought was a long letter, until we had received some of his average-sized communications. That was the beginning of an orgy of letter-writing which lasted the few short months until his death. My wife wrote more letters herself and shortly we were joined by my friend and fellow enthusiast for the fantastic, Harry O. Fischer, then of Lousiville, Kentucky. Our letters were returned to us by Mrs. Gamwell afterwards. The entire correspondence was excerpted by Derleth for the volume of letters and later borrowed and retained, permanently as yet, by another individual who shall remain nameless here.
—Fritz Leiber, Jr. “My Correspondence with Lovecraft,” Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 375

Of the nine published letters from H. P. Lovecraft to Fritz & Jonquil Leiber, based off the Arkham House Transcripts created by August Derleth & co., four are addressed to “My dear Mrs. Leiber.” The originals letters, as far as I am aware, have not surfaced in the interim.

It is difficult to feel out who Jonquil was through these letters. As she told Scott, they show an interest in Lovecraft as a human being more than in his fiction; where Fritz and Lovecraft soon got deep into literary criticism and history, which would cause Fritz Leiber to revise his first Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser novella Adept’s Gambit, to her he answered questions on his life, who Lovecraft was and how he lived. Yet this was a real correspondence, a two-way channel of communication, and Lovecraft found out about her even as she was finding out about him.

It is interesting to know that you have a touch of piracy in your ancestry! I have a counterfeiter as a great-great-grand-uncle about whom I’ll tell you some time.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Jonquil Leiber, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 317

The best picture of her probably came from her husband, writing decades later after thirty-three years of marriage which only ended with her death due to a combination of alcohol and barbiturates. He remembered her as she was when they married:

She was small (four foot ten; best weight, ninety pounds), had bright blue eyes that were at times violet; she was fast (at Cyfartha Castle school in Wales she’d been a great scorer in field hockey; her method: get the ball and dodge your way to the enemy goal, no teamwork needed—you can always dodge big girls) and a good apache dancer; she had natural grace and artistry (early on she’d done illuminated manuscripts just as had the hero of Machen’s The Hill of Dreams); in America she posed for silk stocking advertisements; she was a great party planner and giver, a gifted fortuneteller, enthusiastic, and friendly, but capable of sudden vast dignified reserves, again just like a kitten.
—Fritz Leiber, Jr., “Not Much Disorder and Not So Early Sex: An Autobiographic Essay”
in The Ghost Light 334

Fritz talks about how cold winter was that January and February in Chicago, and how he read to Jonquil “At the Mountains of Madness” by H. P. Lovecraft from the pages of Astounding Stories (the first part appeared in the February 1936 issue, which might have been on the stands the month before). Their correspondence itself is almost lost in his account of their life together. It was, after all, only about four months—though it would influence Fritz for the rest of his life, help inform his work and make connections with the circle of Lovecraft’s correspondents, and he would return the favor with literary analyses and appreciations such as “The Works of H. P. Lovecraft: Suggestions for a Critical Appraisal” (1944), “A Literary Copernicus” (1949), “Through Hyperspace with Brown Jenkin” (1963), and “To Arkham and the Stars” (1966).

Throughout his life, Fritz Leiber, Jr. never forgot his debt to Lovecraft—or to Jonquil.

Because without Jonquil, none of it would have happened. Perhaps Fritz would have found his voice eventually; sold his stories and made his name. Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser may yet have helped inspire Dungeons & Dragons and played their part in the sword & sorcery boom of the 1960s and 70s; Fritz may even have written his homages to Lovecraft without that personal connection and communication. Yet because she had the courage to write to Lovecraft, a torch was passed from one generation of weird writers to another—and the effects of her letters to Lovecraft are still being felt today. They can still be read today, thanks to her: his final hopes to get a job, his painful economic necessities to scrimp on food. Not always pleasant reading, but the kind of insight which Lovecraft did not always share with every correspondent.

Lovecraft’s letters to Jonquil & Fritz Leiber were published in part in volume five of the Selected Letters (Arkham House, 1976), published more fully in Fritz Leiber and H.P. Lovecraft: Writers of the Dark (2005, Wildside Press), and reprinted in Letters to C. L. Moore and Others (2017, Hippocampus Press).

To A Dead Lover

Your limbs lie quietly beneath the grey dust and mould
And I am done with you and all you were of old
The blind worms creep about that once lovely head
I held against my heart…once, when your blood ran red.

Long years ago I loved you, but now I smile
Having other men a long, long while
I have forgotten you, I say, and all you were….

….But why do I hear your slow step on the stair…
And wait, eyes closed, to feel your arms about me?
—Jonquil Stephens, Sonnets to Jonquil and All (1978) vii


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

Relatione del Reame di Congo (1591) by Filippo Pigafetta

The first object of my curiosity was a book of medium size lying upon the table and presenting such an antediluvian aspect that I marvelled at beholding it outside a museum or library. It was bound in leather with metal fittings, and was in an excellent state of preservation; being altogether an unusual sort of volume to encounter in an abode so lowly. When I opened it to the title page my wonder grew even greater, for it proved to be nothing less rare than Pigafetta’s account of the Congo region, written in Latin from the notes of the sailor Lopez and printed at Frankfort in 1598.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Picture in the House”

The Portuguese had begun their colonial empire in Africa in the 15th century, and the explorer Diogo Cão had made contact with the BaKongo people and explored the Congo River in 1482. After the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 restricted Portuguese colonial interests in the Americas, they focused more strongly on trade with and colonial possessions in Africa, as well as sending missionaries to spread Christianity. In the Congo River region, the Portuguese missions became embroiled in local politics, especially the independence movement of the Kingdom of Ndongo, which was a tributary state to the Kingdom of Kongo.

In 1571, the Portuguese led a third mission to the Congo region with the intent of conquering territory for a permanent colony. The Kingdom of the Kongo at this time was faced with not only the independent Kingdom of Ndongo, but raids from other peoples on the border referred to ambiguously as Jagas. The Portuguese established a permanent presence in what they now called Angola, establishing São Paulo de Loanda in 1575, and the Portuguese military force established alliances with both Ndongo and Kongo to assist them against the Jaga as the Portuguese established further forts, trading posts, and settlements with an emphasis on the slave trade for plantations in the Americas.

In 1578, a Portuguese tradesman named Duarte Lopez traveled to the new colony. He stayed there through 1584, which would have including the beginning of the First Portuguese-Ndongo War in 1579. Lopez became involved with local politics, and was made ambassador by the Kongo king Alvaro II, and returned to Europe with letters to Phillip II of Spain (at the time joined with Portugal) and Pope Alexander II. According to Filippo Pigafetta, it was in Rome that he met Duarte Lopez. Filippo Pigafetta’s uncle was Antonio Pigafetta, who had written Relazione del primo viaggio intorno al mondo (Report of the First Voyage Around the World). The Mgr. Antonio Migliore, the Bishop of St. Mark, charged Filippo Pigafetta with writing a similar report of the Congo, with Lopez supplying the necessary data. At this point, Lopez apparently returned to Angola, and no more is known of him.

Pigafetta translated Lopez’ account from Portuguese into Italian, expanded it to cover more of Africa, and in 1591 published it in Rome as Relatione del Reame di Congo et delle circonvicine contrade tratta dalli scritti & ragionamenti di Odoardo Lopez Portoghese. The book proved popular and was translated into many more languages. The German edition of 1597 included plates by the famous engravers Johann Theodor De Bry and his brother Johann Israel De Bry. Although the two never traveled beyond Europe, their engravings of the exploration of the Americas and Africa would become infamous—not the least because of their elaborate illustrations cannibalism and other practices which the European explorers claimed the indigenous peoples practiced.

The De Bry plates, from the German edition, was also reproduced in the 1598 Latin translation, which went under the title Regnum Congo: hoc est Vera descriptio regni Africani Quod Tam ab Incolis Quam Lusitanis Congus Appellatur… which is the supposed volume that Lovecraft placed in the ancient Massachusetts house. That image, minus the blackletter, is the eponymous “Picture in the House” that Lovecraft’s ancient cannibal and his guest would have seen.

anziques1

The remaining three are not of the fantastic but of the realistically gruesome type—the last, which I finished day before yesterday, being rather unique. I am wondering what Loveman will think of it. The title is “The Picture in the House”, & it hinges on a very old engraving by the brothers DeBry—Plate XII of Pigafetta’s “Regnum Congo”, printed in Frankfort in 1598.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 14 Dec 1920, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner 201

Except, Lovecraft almost certainly never saw an actual copy of the Regnum Congo. His account in “The Picture in the House” contains several errors because he was not taking it directly from Pigafetta’s book in any translation. Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi in “Lovecraft and the Regnum Congo” (1984) traces the probable source of the weird taler’s data on the book to Thomas Henry Huxley’s Man’s Place in Nature and Other Anthropological Essays (1894). Huxley was “Darwin’s bulldog,” a strong proponent of evolution in the late 19th century—however, he was also a racialist whose essays provided some of the framework and language for Lovecraft’s statements on race in the 1920s and ’30s.

Huxley’s book does not contain a full reproduction of the de Bry plate XII, instead it includes a partial facsimile. So what Lovecraft would have seen, and what would have inspired “The Picture in the House” is this:

mansplaceinnatur00huxl_0096

The Regnum Congo exists in rare territory similar to The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) by Margaret A. Murray: an authentic book which has become a part of the Mythos (“The Picture in the House” is the first story to mention Arkham). However, it’s also a case where the actual truth behind the eponymous picture has been almost lost behind several layers of translation and distortion. So it is important to break down not just how Lovecraft utilizes the Regnum Congo in this story, but how he got to that point.

What annoyed me was merely the persistent way in which the volume tended to fall open of itself at Plate XII, which represented in gruesome detail a butcher’s shop of the cannibal Anziques. […] The book fell open, almost of its own accord and as if from frequent consultation at this place, to the repellent twelfth plate shewing a butcher’s shop amongst the Anzique cannibals. My sense of restlessness returned, though I did not exhibit it. The especially bizarre thing was that the artist had made his Africans look like white men—the limbs and quarters hanging about the walls of the shop were ghastly, while the butcher with his axe was hideously incongruous. […] Thet feller bein’ chopped up gives me a tickle every time I look at ’im—I hev ta keep lookin’ at ’im—see whar the butcher cut off his feet? Thar’s his head on thet bench, with one arm side of it, an’ t’other arm’s on the graound side o’ the meat block.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Picture in the House”

They have shambles [slaughterhouses] for human flesh, as we have of animals, even eating the enemies they have killed in battle, and selling their slaves if they can get a good price for them; if not, they give them to the butcher, who cuts them in pieces, and then sells them to be roasted or boiled.
—Filippo Pigafetta, trans. Margarite Hutchinson,
in A Report of the Kingdom of the Congo (1881), 29

The infamous cannibal butcher shop is supposed to have belonged to the “Anziques” (the Anziku Kingdom, north of Kongo and Loango). Accounts of cannibalism in European travelogues in Africa, the Americas, and Polynesia are more often hearsay and imputation than not, and Lopez never claims to have seen these supposed butcher shops or slaughterhouses himself. Other accounts of cannibalism in the Regnum Congo involve the Jaga, who were also enemies of the Kongo, and likewise Lopez isn’t an eyewitness, but is depending on local accounts. Readers today might compare such tales of cannibalism to rumors of Germans making soap from human corpses during WWI; an exaggerated polemic against an enemy.

Jared Staller in Converging on Cannibals: Terrors of Slaving in Atlantic Africa, 1509–1670 points this out, and also that Pigafetta knew what he was doing: lurid accounts of cannibalism would shock and entice European readers, confirming implicit biases of “primitiveness” and brutality and the need to Christianize the indigenous peoples. The descriptions were already cliched by the 16th century, with the cannibals described as gluttonous for human flesh, the opposite of civilization. This kind of polemic toward indigenous peoples would survive for centuries, finding a home in the pulps in stories like Robert E. Howard’s “The Man-Eaters of Zamboula” (published as “Shadows in Zamboula,” Weird Tales Nov 1935), and even in mid-century cartoons where indigenous peoples put white explorers in great cooking pots.

So the indigenous peoples in the Regnum Congo were probably not cannibals. So why were they depicted as white?

And them men—them can’t be niggers—they dew beat all. Kinder like Injuns, I guess, even ef they be in Afriky. […] The especially bizarre thing was that the artist had made his Africans look like white men—the limbs and quarters hanging about the walls of the shop were ghastly, while the butcher with his axe was hideously incongruous. But my host seemed to relish the view as much as I disliked it.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Picture in the House”

Elmer Kolfin in “Tradition and innovation in Dutch ethnographic prints of Africans c. 1590-1670” notes the technical difficulties as well as artistic traditions of engraving indigenous Africans. Early woodcuts did not allow much depiction of skin coloration beyond some shading; in a flat, black-and-white medium, the difficulty of providing detail of the body when so much of the skin is dark would have been prohibitive (compare early depictions of the Drow in Dungeons & Dragons products). Relatione del reame di Congo was the first travel book with engravings of Africans; this involved 8 prints by Roman engraver Natale di Bonifazio. The de Bry brothers in their illustration for the German (and reused for the Latin) edition followed Bonifazio’s preference of anatomy over color, trying to capture the curly hair and using hatching to imply a darker skin tone.

So it isn’t so much that the Africans were depicted as white, as that skin color was not easy to depict with early print technologies and the artists focused on detail rather than color. Lovecraft would have likely been oblivious to the technical side of things, and there’s no evidence that he was familiar with early print efforts at depicting non-European skin tones. Even that bit of detail was lost when W. H. Wesley created his facsimile of a detail of Plate XII for Huxley’s Man’s Place In Nature, which grossly simplified the de Bry’s hatching and features.

Huxley takes Pigafetta’s account at face value; that and Wesley’s partial copy of a fragment of the de Bry’s work is all that Lovecraft had to go on. The Rengum Congo in “The Picture in the House” is as accurate as Lovecraft could make it given his limited and flawed information—although as Joshi notes, Lovecraft uses a little literary license in making the text a bit larger than it was in real life, and gave it metal fittings which wouldn’t have been standard. The acuteness of Lovecraft’s attention to detail can be seen in a reference to:

[“]Some o’ these here critters looks like monkeys, or half monkeys an’ half men, but I never heerd o’ nothing like this un.” Here he pointed to a fabulous creature of the artist, which one might describe as a sort of dragon with the head of an alligator.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Picture in the House”

Leslie Klinger in his The New Annotated Lovecraft notes that “Some strange creatures are depicted in the De Bry illustrations, but none that matches this description”—which he is wrong about; this creature, one of the strange animals described in Pigafitta’s text and mentioned by Huxley on page 3, is actually depicted on Plate XI, and can be seen on the middle-right.

regnvmcongohoces00piga_3_0111

So—”The Picture in the House” deals with an at least somewhat sensationalized account of Africa, transmitted from Portuguese to Italian, Italian to German, the etchings from the de Bry brothers taken from the textual descriptions, translated into Latin—and select parts of it quoted, summarized, and partially reproduced in a turn-of-the-century work of racialist essays. Any number of hands added their prejudices and biases to make the book that finally ended up in Lovecraft’s hands and so fired his imagination that in late 1920, he would sit down and write “The Picture in the House.”

What you say of the dark Saxon-Scandinavian heritage as a possible source of the atavistic impulses brought out by emotional repression, isolation, climatic rigour, and the nearness of the vast unknown forest with its coppery savages, is of vast interest to me; insomuch as I have often both said and written exactly the same thing! Have you seen my old story “The Picture in the House”? If not, I must send you a copy. The introductory paragraph virtually sums up the idea you advance.
H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 4 Oct 1930, A Means to Freedom 1.67

It is maybe a little odd to talk about how Lovecraft’s prejudices are expressed in the story, given that the only characters that appear are two white men, and even they recognize the Regnum Congo as something almost quaint and inaccurate in its depiction of indigenous Africans. Yet it is probably important that neither the nameless narrator or his rustic host ever question the validity of the book’s contents. Both white men are willing to accept the reality of Africans as cannibals, and between themselves, the older and less educated man shows no compunction about using the “n-word” (which is rare in Lovecraft’s published fiction).

The horror that the Regnum Congo gives rise to in “The Picture in the House” isn’t so much the cannibalism, which the bigoted white men accept as a matter of course—it’s the idea of white people committing cannibalism on members of their own race. The act which Pigafetta depicted so luridly as a contrast to “white” European civilization in the 16th century is the very same act that the rustic Yankee is implied to have degenerated to. So “The Picture in the House” is very similar in that respect to stories like “The Beast in the Cave,” “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family,” “The Lurking Fear,” and “The Rats in the Walls”—the atavistic horror that white people, for all their supposed superiority, can fall back into the same habits and qualities that centuries of prejudice had attributed to black Africans.

What makes this somewhat ironic is that such prejudices proliferated thanks in no small part due to books like the Regnum Congo itself. While it may have been obscure by 1920 when Lovecraft wrote the story, the Regnum Congo in many ways helped spread the libel that Africans were inferior, savage, and cannibalistic. Such depictions would influence pulp fiction tales like “The Picture in the House” and “Mother of Serpents” (1936) by Robert Bloch, general fiction like Black Magic (1929) by Paul Morand with its cannibalistic African cult, and still influences depictions of Africa and Africans today.

In the wider sense of the Cthulhu Mythos, “The Picture in the House” is an outlier. It is the start of Lovecraft’s “Arkham Cycle,” but otherwise contains no overt connections to the Mythos and no supernatural elements beyond the suggestion of cannibalism leading to unnatural longevity. As a story, it has been effective enough to get a couple of graphic adaptations, and the de Bry print of Plate XII (or other de Bry cannibalism depictions) are relatively popular as illustrations. The Regnum Congo isn’t a “Mythos tome” in the sense of the Necronomicon, or even as The Witch-Cult in Western Europe is sometimes taken to be. The strongest effort to tie it in to Lovecraft’s greater body of work is in Alan Moore & Jacen Burrow’s Providence, where the idea of cannibalism as a potential method of immortality is presented as a viable option in the Kitab Al-Hikmah Al-Najmiyya (“The Book of Starry Wisdom”).

Many versions of the Regnum Congo are now in the public domain and can be read for free online. The 1598 Latin edition with the de Bry plates may be found here, and the 1881 edition of the English translation may be found here.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“In the Gulf of N’Logh” (193?) and “Lair of Fungous Death” (193?) by Hazel Heald

 

Hazel Heald has the distinction of being Lovecraft’s most prolific weird revision client, their works together being “The Man of Stone” (1932)“The Horror in the Museum” (1933)“Winged Death” (1934)“Out of the Æons” (1935), and “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” (1937). While much of their relationship remains obscure, and the accounts of Muriel E. Eddy in The Gentleman from Angell Street (2001) not always entirely reliable, an inquisitive Lovecraft fan might wonder if they had any unpublished revisions which did not see the light of day—and the answer is: maybe.

Sorry I can’t dig up any more material at the moment—am wallowing in a morass of tasks & staggering under what seems like a variant of grippe. Hope you can assemble sufficient copy for #1, & am glad you have an illustration for future issues.[…] Glad you’ve received at least some material from those I recommended. Come to think of it, you might get a short story (fairly long as such things go) from Mrs. Hazel Heald, 15 Carter St. Newtonville, Mass. Ask her for “In the Gulfs of N’Logh” or some other tale which didn’t land professionally.
—H. P. Lovecraft to John Weir, 28 Jan 1937, MSS. John Hay Library

He was dying. A young fan named John Weir was putting together a new fanzine, to be entitled Fantasmagoria. The fanzine lasted five issues, from 1937 to 1940, probably in a very small number of copies. Issues one and two have been scanned and are available to read online; the second issue promising in upcoming numbers:

Fantasmagoria July 1937

Yet “In the Gulfs of N’Logh” never appeared in Fantasmagoria, or anywhere else. Weir obviously followed Lovecraft’s suggestion and wrote to Hazel Heald asking for the story, and she replied:

Please find enclosed my “In the Gulfs of N’logh”. It was rejected by Wright as being unsuitable for his magazine.
—Hazel Heald to John Weir, 10 Feb 1937, MSS. John Hay Library

In a letter to his collaborator John Baltadonis, Weir says of his fanzine:

Those that have contributed are Lovecraft, Rimel, Stickney, Kuttner, Heald, and Lowndes. [….] Lovecraft told me that Mrs. Hazel Heald might send me a story called “In the Gulfs of N’Logh”. Well, she sent me it and I almost fainted. It takes up thirty-three (sides) typewriter pages! You can bet that I’m not putting that in the small issues. I’m going to wait till I increase the pages and then I’ll run it as a serial. Can you imagine, though, Thirty-three pages! Whew!
—John Weir to John Baltadonis, 15 Feb 1937, MSS. John Hay Library

A month later, Weir would write to fellow fan and Lovecraft correspondent Willis Conover, most remembered in weird circles today for Lovecraft at Last (1975), where in discussing their collections Weir says:

I have a manuscript that almost beats yours. This is “In the Gulfs of N’Logh” by Hazel Heald. Besides that I’ve got an old poem of Lovecraft’s and another Hazel Heald story. The first story by Heald is composed of Thirty-two typewritten sheets.
—John Weir to Willis Conover, 16 Mar 1937, MSS. John Hay Library

Unknown to both Conover and Weir, H. P. Lovecraft had died the day before. As soon as he heard, August Derleth immediately set about writing to Lovecraft’s known correspondents, planning a posthumous publication of his work and letters. This included Hazel Heald, who wrote:

I have had several rejected tales I passed on to J. James Weird [sic] who is starting a new fan magazine. HPL advised me to keep myself in the public eye as much as possible. I am typing a tale now which I hope Wright will accept.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 31 Mar 1937

Weir was obviously still in contact with Heald at this point, and must have passed on his assertion that “In the Gulfs of N’Logh” was too long for the fanzine to publish in a single issue, as she wrote in a subsequent letter:

I have a lot of rejected mss. and have given two to a fan magazine that will be printed soon. One of the tales will be used as a serial. John Weir is the editor. HPL recommended him to me.
Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 14 Apr 1937

The other story that Heald refers to was apparently “The Heir of the Mesozoic”, which was published in two parts in Fantasmagoria #4 (1938) and #5 (1939/1940). She was obviously keen to hear about these stories, because she wrote to Weir about them on May 18 1937, and then again later that year:

Will you please tell me if you have published my “An Heir of the Mesozoic” and “In the Gulfs of N’logh”? I haven’t heard from you since last Spring. If you aren’t going to use them please send them back as I have others who want them.
—Hazel Heald to John Weir, 21 Sep 1937, MSS. John Hay Library

The extant correspondence appears to end there. Weir never published “In the Gulfs of N’Logh,” probably due to its length, and appears to have returned the manuscript to Heald at some point. The manuscript itself appears to no longer be extant.

So what are we to make of “In the Gulfs of N’Logh”? Obviously, Lovecraft was aware of it; it was a weird tale, because it was submitted to Weird Tales and rejected by Farnsworth Wright sometime before January 1937, and it was fairly long—33 (or 32) pages is ~16,000 words, a genuine novella. The title “N’Logh” could allude to a location in Africa (like “Winged Death”), or equally a fantastically Lovecraftian location like R’lyeh. Was it an actual unsold Lovecraft revision? Unless the manuscript comes to light, we may never know.

In her letters to August Derleth, Hazel Heald mentions other stories which appear lost to time, though submitted to (and rejected by) Weird Tales and other pulps. The titles are not promising: “The Devil’s Jigsaw” and “Terror by Moonlight” do not seem particularly Lovecraftian. One story which did receive a bit more attention was “Lair of the Fungous Death.”

Do you think that WEIRD TALES would accept my “Lair of the fungous death” now? He rejected it several years ago as he said it was not up to my standard. I never could understand it for Mr. Lovecraft considered it very good. I sent it to you once to read, and your comments were favorable. I hate to have it rejected again, but on account of the war, and perhaps a shortage of writers, I thought it might be more acceptable. He might have forgotten by now that I ever sent it to him.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, n.d. (c. 1944)

Farnsworth Wright had been fired from his position as editor of Weird Tales in early 1940, and died soon after. His position at the helm of “The Unique Magazine” was taken by Dorothy McIlwraith, and Derleth undoubtedly told Heald of that:

Am sending my LAIR OF THE FUNGOUS DEATH to Weird Tales today. Hope she will like it.
Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 19 Sep 1944

I sent my story “The Lair of Fungous Death” to the editor of “Weird Tales” about a week ago, but haven’t heard anything as yet. Is she slower than Farnsworth Wright about her decision? I hope it is accepted, for money is an important factor with me as everyone else.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 30 Sep 1944

At this time, Derleth was getting permission from Heald to include “Winged Death” and “The Man of Stone” in Marginalia (1944) as Lovecraft revisions; like some of the other Lovecraft revision clients, Heald was insistent on her own authorship of the stories, prevailing evidence notwithstanding. Which may be why she wrote to Derleth:

I have not heard from Miss McIlwraith as yet. I hope that my story will meet with her approval. Wright nearly accepted it, but might have been overcrowded with manuscripts at that time. HPL read it but did not revise it, but his comments on it were very favorable. I was discouraged at the rejection and just threw it in a drawer and forgot about it. Some time ago, I found it and sent it to several of the WEIRD TALES authors to read, and they did not recommend any changes.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 6 Oct 1944

We don’t have good data on how long it took McIlwraith to make a decision on such things; but the weeks and months ticked by:

I haven’t had my story rejected as yet, so hope it will please the editor.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 13 Oct 1944

How does a woman happen to take Wright’s place? I suppose on account of the shortage of men. How long does she usually take to make a decision on a story? I hope she will take mine. It is nearly three weeks since I submitted it.

Several years ago a man wrote to me and said he would like some of my unpublished tales for a book he was going to publish, and though he did not pay for them, it would be good advertising. I did not regard them as worth printing, but he insisted. I even forgot his name and thought no more about it until I received a letter saying they would be printed soon. From that day to this I have heard nothing. Do you think he was trying to get plots for stories, and went about it in that way? I did not care anything about the tales as I have carbon copies somewhere, but it seemed like a strange request, didn’t it?
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 14 Oct 1944

The latter comment is, in hindsight, almost certainly a reference to John Weir and Fantasmagoria, which had after a long delay published the shorter of two stories she had sent as “The Heir of the Mesozoic” in two parts.

How long does Miss McIllwraith take to make a decision on a story? If she isn’t considering it at all, do you get it back within a few weeks, or do you have to wait months? I know you said she was slow, but there must be some sort of time limit.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 21 Oct 1944

Whether McIlwraith finally rejected the story or Heald simply gave up on hearing back from her, we hear no more on the matter. Divorced and unable to support herself with her writings, Hazel Heald took whatever work she could find to earn a living—but she never gave up on the dream of writing, and enrolled in a writing course to improve her skills. However, instead of focusing on original composition, she dug out the old typescript:

I went to school Thursday night and liked it very much. He wants us to bring manuscripts next time and he will correct them, so I am taking my “Lair of the Fungous Death.”
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 6 Nov 1944

Thanks very much for suggestions about my story. Would you like to see it first, or had I ought to send it to the magazines you mentioned? I know you are very busy but I dislike rejections perhaps more than an established writer, and get so discouraged I feel like giving up the ghost. If your opinion is that it is not worth sending, I will junk it. HPL read it and thought it OK, and didn’t think it needed revising, but Mr. Chadwick told me it should be cut down, and recommended cutting out some scenes entirely. He said in conclusion I didn’t explain everything. HPL said to keep the reader guessing, and let him use his own imagination. Mr. C. said it stretched the reader’s imagination too much, and also that I talked too much about the horror of the whole thing. HPL said to keep it alive in the reader’s mind. I feel as though I was between the Devil and the dark blue sea! I don’t think that a writer who doesn’t write weird stories themselves can understand another’s style.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 29 Nov 1944

Am sending my story along as you suggested. I can’t see any great mistakes in it as Chadwick did. If HPL liked it, it must be OK. “Weird Tales” rejected it because it was too long. Chadwick said it was too impossible, and said no one liked to read impossible things. I may be a moron belonging to that “certain class” he mentioned, but I certainly like to read tales that stretch the imagination. He said, “You and I certainly wouldn’t read such stuff, would we?” and I told him I most certainly would! I didn’t go last Thursday night. HPL was so kind and understanding, and though he made me write things over and over, he was always ready to praise if I deserved it. Chadwick says that any branch of story would be more liable to sell than weird tales. I couldn’t write a love story to save my life for I am too cynical in that line. A detective or wild west story wouldn’t interest me, so how could I write one? I guess I have a one-track mind. […] I didn’t retype my story, but will if you think I should.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 4 Dec 1944

We can empathize with Heald here, as she is basically defending Lovecraft’s position on weird fiction against what must have been a very condescending attitude toward the weird tale by Chadwick.

Derleth’s assessment of the story doesn’t survive, but we can imagine his hopes might have been moderated: a weird story from Hazel Heald that Lovecraft had at least passed his eye over, even if she insisted he hadn’t revised it, and which had been considered and rejected by Farnsworth Wright for Weird Tales on account of length—probably not unlike “In the Gulfs of N’Logh”—and the word fungous in the title, which recalled Lovecraft’s fungi from Yuggoths and other growths. If there was even a hint of Lovecraft in the story, it could probably have been salable—or at least publishable in an Arkham House book, as he had done with Marginalia. Heald’s last comment on the matter:

I know that I am “NG” now for I am entirely out of practice, for “The Horror in the Burying Ground” was my last real attempt. Guess its no use to try for you thought my tale I sent you a complete flop.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 1 Feb 1945

This is not quite the end of the story. Apparently sometime in the late 1950s, Lovecraft collector Jack Grill managed to contact Hazel Heald and persuaded her to sell him a couple of manuscripts. The account is contained only in George Wetzel’s “A Memoir of Jack Grill”:

Two of the items were to have been unpublished stories by Hazel Heald—The Basement Room and Lair of the Fungus Death, 5 PP and 25 pp respectively, that Jack had purchased from Miss Heald along with a one page criticism of them by Derleth. 

“Re Hazel Heald stories—I gotta hunch that the Eddys, H. Heald & their writer friends follow yr HPL articles. Please don’t write up her stories until the old gal kicks the bucket, unless favorably. Perhaps she don’t give a damn what anybody thinks of her stories…[“]

As Douglas A. Anderson points out in The H. P. Lovecraft Collection of Jack Grill and (later) Irving Binkin” these two manuscripts and Derleth’s criticism are not listed among the other items in Grill’s catalog of Lovecraftiana. “The Lair of the Fungous Death,” like “The Lair of N’Logh,” has disappeared—though if some collector bought it, there remains at least the chance that it will appear again at some point.

The big question for most people is: were either of these actual Lovecraft pieces? Maybe. It is well-known that later in life Lovecraft’s stories were getting longer, which made them more difficult to sell to pulps; it wouldn’t be impossible for Lovecraft to have revised a couple stories for Heald which didn’t place for whatever reason—he spoke relatively little about any of the Heald stories in his letters unless they had sold.

Given her relatively precarious financial condition later in life, it seems unlikely that Hazel Heald might have entertained any thoughts of a collection of stories akin to Zealia Bishop’s The Curse of Yig (1953, Arkham House)—but if some of those rejected manuscripts had actually sold, or if Derleth had seen something in them that warranted preservation, perhaps we might have seen a second woman’s collection of Mythos tales in the 1950s.

It is easy to speculate about undiscovered Mythos tales, but for me the interest in these rejected stories is less “what might have been” and more what it tells us about those involved. Their existence points to a more complicated relationship between Heald and Lovecraft than the five submitted and accepted stories labeled as Lovecraft revisions or ghostwritten tales suggest. It suggests that the commercial aspect of their business would have had its highs and lows, above and beyond whether Heald was able to pay Lovecraft for his revision services, with stories written, revised, rewritten, submitted, and rejected again and again. Likely there is some truth that like Zealia Bishop, Heald saw Lovecraft as more of a teacher than a ghostwriter, and that the image of Lovecraft as the principal author of the revision tales may owe a bit more to August Derleth’s salesmanship in the 1940s and 50s than is commonly credited.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

Her Letters to Lovecraft: Unnamed Salem Witch Descendant

The old gentry, representing the two or three armigerous families which came from Salem in 1692, have kept somewhat above the general level of decay; though many branches are sunk into the sordid populace so deeply that only their names remain as a key to the origin they disgrace. Some of the Whateleys and Bishops still send their eldest sons to Harvard and Miskatonic, though those sons seldom return to the mouldering gambrel roofs under which they and their ancestors were born.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror” Weird Tales April 1929

Among the Salem witches in 1692, ‘this Rampant Hag, Martha Carrier, was the person, of whom the Confessions of the Witches, and of her own Children among the rest, agreed, That the Devil had promised her, she should be Queen of Hell.
—Margaret Murray, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) 47

Since 1924 when he first read Margaret Murray’s book on witches, H. P. Lovecraft had believed in the reality of the witch-cult, and that it had an American coven in Salem which had precipitated the famous witch-trials. So too, Lovecraft began to connect his stories with a fictional Salem diaspora, which included Joseph Curwen (“The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”), the ancestors of Randolph Carter (“Through the Gates of the Silver Key”), Richard Upton Pickman (“Pickman’s Model”) and the unnamed narrator of “The Festival.” Lovecraft even hinted at the events in his “History of the Necronomicon.” Yet when Lovecraft wrote “The Dunwich Horror” and “them witch Whateleys” little did he know that he was about to have an encounter with a real-life descendant of Salem.

By the way—that tale has just earned me a highly interesting letter from a curious old lady in Boston, a direct lineal descendant of the Salem witch Mary Easty, who was hanged on Gallows Hill Aug. 19, 1692. She hints at strange gifts & traditions handed down in her family, & asks me if I have access to any ancient secret witch-lore of New England. Also, she wants to know if Dunwich & Arkham are real places! I shall answer the letter, & see if I can get the good old soul to relate some of the whispered witch-traditions! A story of Salem horror based on actual “inside dope” from a witch-blooded crone would surely be a striking novelty!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 22 Mar 1929, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 171

Mary Towne Eastey (or Este, Easty, & other variations) was 58 when she was hanged for witchcraft. Her case is less famous than some of the other victims; Arthur Miller barely names her in The Crucible (1952). Two of her sisters were accused as well, with Rebecca Nurse hanged a few months earlier, but Sarah Cloyce was released the following year. Among the victims of the Salem Witch Trials, Mary Eastey was remembered as one of the most pious and eloquent, and in the end begged the court not for her own life, but for the lives of her fellow accused.

Before she died, Mary Eastey had eleven children, and many grandchildren—and in the 237 years between her death and the letter that H. P. Lovecraft received from “a curious old lady in Boston,” there is room for hundreds of potential descendants. Lovecraft never identifies his correspondent by name, nor does he appear to have kept any of her letters, so this particular correspondent has never been identified, and may never be, so brief was their relationship—so as with many of his lesser-known correspondents, we have to piece together what we can not from the letters themselves, but from Lovecraft’s references in his letters to others.

By the way—the publication of “The Dunwich Horror” has just earned me a curious & interesting letter from an old lady in Boston, a direct lineal descendant of the Salem witch Mary Easty, who was hanged on Gallows Hill Aug. 19, 1692. She claims to have heard some strange traditions handed down in the family, & to possess certain powers of peering into the future which she cannot explain. A quaint old soul, apparently—I shall write & see if any of her “inside” witch traditions have fictional value. She wants to know whether Dunwich & Arkham are real places, since they don’t appear on ordinary maps of Massachusetts!
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, c. 22 Mar 1929, Essential Solitude 1.189

It is likely that like many fans she wrote at first by way of Weird Tales, and that the editor Farnsworth Wright had forwarded the letter to Lovecraft, much as he would do with Robert E. Howard’s letter to Lovecraft the next year. Weird Tales had never shied away from tales of the Salem Witch Trials; Seabury Quinn had covered the trials in his series of nonfiction articles titled Servants of Satan, beginning with “The Salem Horror” (WT Mar 1925). Quinn, like Lovecraft in “The Dunwich Horror,” mentions tourists—Salem in the 1920s was beginning to appreciate its reputation as “witch country,” though not quite to the extant that it one day would.

While Quinn paints the victims of the Salem witch hysteria as innocent here, in his fiction he was more than happy to hint at real witches caught and burned by the trials. Lovecraft was far from alone in imagining a Salem witch diaspora, which caught on in the public imagination with films like I Married A Witch (1942) and eventually the television show Bewitched (1964-1972) and characters like Sabrina Spellman (Archie’s Mad House #22, Oct 1962). But at the time, these “real” witches of Salem were often depicted less positively, such as in Robert Bloch’s short story “Satan’s Servants” (written c. 1935) which Lovecraft had a slight hand in.

Yes—I may call on that venerable & genial witch-descendant before long. She is certainly the epitome of thoughtfulness & generosity—no sooner had I chanced to mention casually my long desire to read “The Wind in the Rosebush”, than the good soul sent it along as an unsolicited loan—she having owned it these 25 years, ever since it was published!
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 1 Apr 1929, Essential Solitude 1.190

While we don’t know for certain what Lovecraft’s letter contained, his first letter would not doubt disabused her that any of his artificial mythology—including Arkham and Dunwich—were real, as this is what he always did whenever anyone asked him about the reality of of the Necronomicon, Cthulhu, et al. It is curious that Lovecraft would mention such a scarce volume as Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman’s The Wind in the Rose-Bush and Other Stories of the Supernatural (1903), but given that the unnamed correspondent was a reader of Weird Tales, it suggests she had some tastes in weird fiction, and Lovecraft had recently published his “Supernatural Horror in Literature” (1927), which mentioned Freeman’s book, so perhaps that formed a point of discussion.

Yes—that letter from a witch-descendant was rather unusual, & I am still hoping for dark data when she gets ready to unfold some real family history. It appears that her forbears were well acquainted with the Marblehead witches Edward Dimond & his daughter Moll Pitcher, (whose home, “The Old Brig”, still stands on Burying Hill) & that she herself, through the Easty or Este line, is a scion of the D’Estes of Ferrara, Italy, & a descendant of no less a malign character than Lucrezia Borgia! Some ancestry! The wildest progenitors on my own family charts seem pretty tame besides this array of glittering sinistrality.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 14 Apr 1929, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 172

Marblehead, Massachusetts, neighboring Salem, was a model for Lovecraft’s Kingsport just as Salem (or Salem Village, modern day Danvers) was the basis for “witch-haunted Arkham.” Edward Dimond was known as “the Wizard of Marblehead” or “Wizard Dimond”; his granddaughter Moll Pitcher gained some fame as a fortune-teller in nearby Lynn, and was the subject of a poem by famed poet John Greenleaf Whittier.

I’ve heard more from the Boston witch-descendant, who likewise turns out to be a lineal scion (through the Massachusetts Eastys, who were originally D’Estes of Ferrara, Italy) of Lucrezia Borgia & Pope Alexander the Sixth! Likewise, her forbears were intimately acquainted with Old Diamond & Moll Pitcher of Marblehead, about whom I told you some time ago. She has not yet related any specific dark tales transmitted down her family line, but still promises to do so.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 15 Apr 1929, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw 56

The connection with the House of Este of Ferrara appears fanciful—many amateurs in genealogy make assumptions based on common names. If that is fancy, or an error, it may be that the entire witch-genealogy of this unknown correspondent was so. Certainly, it doesn’t appear that the “dark lore” was apparently ever passed to Lovecraft, or at least he makes no mention of further correspondence with her after 1929, nor are there any specific mentions of his visiting her in Boston at any point.

The Boston witch-lady & the Maine wizard prove rather interesting—the latter in a somewhat amusing way.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 4 May 1929, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw 61

“The Maine Wizard” was a male occultist who corresponded with Lovecraft at roughly the same time and for roughly the same purpose: asking after the genuine lore behind the Necronomicon and all that. As with the “Boston witch-lady,” Lovecraft never gives his name, though the very few descriptions suggest he was not William Lumley, another occultist of Lovecraft’s acquaintance.

Both of these correspondents have in common that they wrote to Lovecraft, probably via Weird Tales, as essentially “serious fan letters”—and we might imagine their thrill at receiving a response from the author, even as we imagine their disappointment when Lovecraft revealed that it was all made up after all. In both cases it is possible that the correspondence continued for a time, turning to other subjects. While we never learn her name, we do learn her ultimate fate:

An old lady in Bostom whom I knew—& who died just a year ago—was a direct descendant of Mary Easty, one of the Salem witches hanged in 1692—& therefore a collateral descendant of the more famous Rebecca Nurse (Mrs. Easty’s sister), whose ancient house (built 1636) in Danvers, Mass. [near Salem—formerly called Salem-Village] is still in existence & open as a public museum (I saw it in 1923).
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 19 Mar 1934, O Fortunate Floridian! 116

One thing we can be relatively sure of is that Lovecraft did not have her copy of The Wind in the Rose-Bush in later years, because he did not have a copy when Samuel Loveman gifted one to him in 1935. Lovecraft tended to be punctual in such things, and his last published recollection of his one-time correspondent shows it is no longer in his possession:

It’s an achievement nowadays even to read “The Wind in the Rosebush”, for scarcely any library has a copy. I never saw it till a year & a half ago, when a nice old lady in Boston lent a copy to Munn & me.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 14 Apr 1932, Essential Solitude 2.472

H. Warner Munn was a fellow weird taler from Athol, Massachusetts who had famously written “The Werewolf of Ponkert” (WT Jul 1925) following a suggestion from Lovecraft; the Rhode Islander also noted Munn’s extensive weird library. Curiously, when Loveman gifted Lovecraft with a copy of the rare book, he noted:

Loveman brought me a copy of “The Wind in the Rosebush” which he had promised me so long. Now you, Munn, & I are all equipped!
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 5 Sep 1935, O Fortunate Floridian! 291

Where did Munn get his copy? Did he have a bit of luck and buy one in the book store or—perhaps—was he one of those bastards that borrow a book and never give it back? That would certainly be another reason for the old witch lady to cut ties…but, we don’t know; perhaps she sold or gifted the copy to Munn.

That is all there is on Lovecraft’s correspondence with the unnamed descendant of Mary Towne Eastey, that innocent old woman killed in the witch-hysteria that gripped Salem Village in 1692. Seabury Quinn in “The End of the Horror” called the whole episode absurd and a tragedy, and so it was. Yet reading these lines over, I am given to wonder if in their brief correspondence Lovecraft did not touch on Mary Eastey’s sister Rebecca Nurse—and recalled a very singular experience he had in a trip to Danvers some years prior, before he read The Witch-Cult in Western Europe:

I now put the aera of Colonial refinement behind me, and hark’d back farther still to an age of darker and weirder appeal—the age of the dreaded witchcraft. Leaving Danvers, I struck out along the roads and across the fields toward the lone farmhouse built by Townsend Bishop in 1636, and in 1692 inhabited by the worthy and inoffensive old widow Rebekah Nurse, who was seventy years of age and wished no one harm. Accused by the superstitious West Indian slave woman Tituba (who belong’d to the Reverend Samuel Parris and who caused the entire wave of delusion) of bewitching children, and denounced blindly by some of the hysterical children in question, Goodwife Nurse was arrested and brought to trial. Thirty-nine persons sign’d a paper attesting to her blameless conduct, and a jury render’d a verdict of “not guilty”; but popular clamour led the judges to reverse the verdict (as was then possible), and on 19 July 1692 the poor grandam was hang’d on Gallows Hill in Salem for a mythological crime. Her remains were brought back from Salem and interred in the family burying-grounda ghoulish place shadowed by huge pines and at some distance from the house. In 1885 a monument was erected to her memory, bearing an inscription by the poet Whittier.

As I approach’d the spot to which I had been directed, after passing through the hamlet of Tapleyville, the afternoon sun was very low. Soon the houses thinn’d out; so that on my right were only the hilly fields of stubble, and occasional crooked trees clawing at the sky. Beyond a low crest a thick group of spectral boughs bespoke some kind of grove or orchardand in the midst of this group I suddenly descry’d the rising outline of a massive and ancient chimney. Presently, as I advanced, I saw the top of a grey, drear, sloping roof- sinister in its distant setting of bleak hillside and leafless grove, and unmistakable belonging to the haunted edifice I sought. Another turna gradual ascentand I beheld in full view the sprawling, tree-shadowed house which had for nearly three hundred years brooded over those hills and held such secrets as men may only guess. Like all old farmhouses of the region, the Nurse cottage faces the warm south and slopes low toward the north. It front on an ancient garden, where in their season gay blossoms flaunt themselves against the grim, nail-studded door and the vertical sundial above it. That sundial was long concealed by the overlaid clapboards of Gothic generations, but came to light when the house was restored to original form by the memorial society which owns it. Everything about the place is ancienteven to the tiny-paned lattice windows which open outward on hinges. The atmosphere of witchcraft days broods heavily upon that low hilltop.

My rap at the ancient door brought the caretaker’s wife, an elderly unimaginative person with no appreciation of the dark glamour of the ancient scene. This family live in a lean-to west of the main structurean addition probably 100 years less ancient than the parent edifice. I was the first visitor of the 1923 season, and took pride in signing my name at the top of the register. Entering, I found myself in a low, dark passage whose massive beams almost touched my head; and passing on, I travers’d the two immense rooms on the round floorsombre, barren, panell’d apartments with colossal fireplaces in the vast central chimney, and with occasional pieces of the plain, heavy furniture and primitive farm and domestick utensils of the ancient yeomanry. In these wide, low-pitch’d rooms a spectral menace broodsfor to my imagination the 17th century is as full of macabre mystery, repression and ghoulish adumbrations as the 18th century is full of taste, gayety, grace and beauty. This was a typical Puritan abode; where amdist the bare, ugly necessities of life, and without learning, beauty, culture, freedom or ornament, terrible stern-fac’d folk in conical hats or poke-bonnets dwelt 250 and more years agoclose to the soil and all its hideous whisperings; warp’d in mentality by isolation and unnatural thoughts, and shivering in fear of the Devil on autumn nights when the wind howl’d through the twisted orchard trees or rustled the hideous corpse-nourish’d pines in the graveyard at the foot of the hill. There is eldritch fascinationhorrible buried evilin these archaic farmhouses. After seeing them, and smelling the odour of centuries in their walls, one hesitates to read certain passages in Cotton Mather’s strange old “Magnalia (which you, little Belknap, shall see when you come to visit your old grandpa) after dark. After exploring the ground floor I crept up the black crooked stairs and examin’d the bleak chambers above. The furniture was as ugly as that below, and included a small trundle-bed in which infant Puritans (even as you, children) were lull’d to sleep with meaningless prayers and morbid hints of daemons riding the night-wind outside the small-paned lattice-windows. Poor little creatures! […]

I saw old Rebekah’s favourite chair, where she used to sit and spin before the Salem magistrates dragged her to the gallows. And the sunset wind whistled in the colossal chimney, and ghouls rattled ghastly skeletons from unseen attic rafters overhead. Tho’ it was not suppos’d to be open to the public, I persuaded the caretaker to let me ascend to that hideous garret of century’d secrets. Thick dust cover’d everything, and unnatural shapes loom’d on every hand as the evening twilight oozed though the little blear’d panes of the ancient windows. I saw something hanging from the wormy ridge-polesomething that swayed as if in unison with the vesper breeze outside, tho’ that breeze had no access to this funereal and forgotten placeshadows … shadows … shadows… And I descended from that accursed garret of palaeogean arcana, and left that portentous abode of antiquity; left it and went down the hill to the graveyard under the shocking pines, where twilight shew’d sinister slabs and rusty bits of fallen iron fence, and where something squatted in shadow on a monumentsomething that made me climb the hill again, hurry shudderingly past the venerable house and descend the opposite slope to Tapleyville as night came.
H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long and Alfred Galpin, 1 May 1923, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 247-249

What might she have made of that, if Lovecraft cared to retell that particular tale? Perhaps it would have thrilled her…or perhaps she would have taken more comfort in the lines of Whittier that adorn Rebecca Nurse’s monument:

O, Christian martyr! who for truth could die,
When all about thee owned the hideous lie!
The world, redeemed from superstition’s sway,
Is breathing freer for thy sake today.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“Cindy: Scrub-Lady in a State Street Skyscraper” (1920) by H. P. Lovecraft

Ethel: Cashier in a Broad Street BuffetCindy: Scrub-Lady in a State Street Skyscraper
Beautiful and calm and proud,
Only Ethel’s soul seems bowed;
Throngs may pass her, kind or curt,
They can neither heal nor hurt;
There she sits with manner strange,
Taking checks and making change!

Eyes are dark, but something fled
Leaves them heavy as the dead;
Brow is white, but something there
Lingers like an old despair;
Lips are sweet, but coldly curled—
Oh, so weary of the world!

Ethel’s always dressed in black;
Parting thus may leave its track.
Ethel’s always wan and pale;
Pining is not known to fail.
Though a life or love you rue,
Ethel, how I pity you!

—Randolph St. John
Black of face and white of tooth,
Cindy’s soul has lost its youth.
Strangely heedless of the crowd,
O’er her mop forever bow’d:
Eyes may roll and lips may grin,
But there’s something dead within!

Brow serene—resign’d to Fate—
Some three hundred pounds in weight—
Cindy wields a cynic’s broom,
Thinking not of hope or doom.
For the world she cares no more—
She has seen it all before!

Cindy’s always dressed in red,
With a kerchief round her head.
What may blight the damsel so?
Watermelon, work, or woe?
Tho’ her days may placid be,
Glad I am, that I’m not she!

—L. Theobald, Jun.
The Tryout no. 6, June 1920

We are spoiled for lore with regard to Lovecraft; because he left such a paper trail, because conscientious individuals like R. H. Barlow, August Derleth, and Donald Wandrei worked to preserve his letters, and then Arkham House, Necronomicon Press, Hippocampus Press, et al. to see them published, we know more about Lovecraft and his thoughts on things than almost any other pulp writer. However, he didn’t make a habit of leaving a trace for every bit of verse he left scattered in every amateur journal.

“Cindy: Scrub-Lady in a State Street Skyscraper” by H. P. Lovecraft (writing under his pseudonym Lewis Theobald, Jun.) appeared as above, opposite “Ethel: Cashier in a Broad Street Buffet” by his friend Rheinhart Kleiner (writing as Randolph St. John) in the same issue of the amateur journal The Tryout. The two poems are obviously a set, with the exact same number of lines, common meter and subject. Beyond that, there is nothing more known about the background of the poems except what is contained in the text; no letter survives regarding their genesis, publication, or reception in Lovecraft’s Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner or any other volume of Lovecraft’s published letters.

The setting is presumably in Providence, R.I. (which has both a Broad St. and State St.); although Kleiner being a New Yorker, there’s the possibility they were writing from their respective locations. Kleiner wrote a handful of brief memoirs of Lovecraft without mentioning these poems, but in “A Memoir of Lovecraft” (1948) he wrote what might conceivably be their genesis, a trip to Providence that Kleiner took in 1917 with the express purpose of visiting Lovecraft:

On our way back to his home, and while we were still downtown, I suggested stopping in at a cafeteria for a cup of coffee. He agreed, but took milk himself, and watched me dispose of coffee and cake, or possibly pie, with some curiosity. It occurred to me later that this visit to a public eating-house—a most unpretentious one—might have been a distinct departure from his own usual habits.
Lovecraft Remembered 196

Yet without any more specific reference to go on, we are in speculative territory. We don’t know if this was part of a contest, a jest, or an old shame for the both of them.

It can be clearly seen that this is a lighter bit of verse. Both Lovecraft and Kleiner are being melodramatic about their subjects to the point of parody. The poets were still relatively young (Lovecraft was 30 in 1920, Kleiner was 28) white men who took as their subject two apparently older working women, and finding something dreary and dead in their countenance. Kleiner appears authentic (“I pity thee!”), while Lovecraft is obviously having a bit more fun, which given his subject and the way her frames it, makes a rather forgettable bit of verse come off nastier to readers today. This wasn’t untypical of Lovecraft’s satirical verse, and Kleiner would write in “A Note on Howard P. Lovecraft’s Verse” (1919):

As a satirist along familiar lines, particularly those laid down by Butler, Swift, and Pope, he is most himself—paradoxical thought it seems. In reading his satires one cannot help but feel the zest with which the author has composed them. They are admirable for the way in which they reveal the depth and intensity of Mr. Lovecraft’s convictions, while the wit, irony, sarcasm, and humour to be found in them serve as an indication of his powers as a conversationalist. The almost relentless ferocity of his satires is constantly relieved by an attendant broad humour which has the merit of causing the readers to chuckle more than once in the perusal of some attack levelled against the particular person or policy which may have incurred Mr. Lovecraft’s displeasure.
Lovecraft Remembered 402

The only thing that makes “Cindy” really stand out among the mass of Lovecraft’s poetry is that it is his only poem that takes as it subject a black woman. It isn’t clear that this is a specific individual or a kind of archetype; “Cindy” in this sense has to be taken as short for “Cinderella,” a shorthand pseudonym for any cleaning woman. The traits that Lovecraft assigns to her: dark-skinned, white teeth, overweight, dressed in red, with a kerchief around her head suggests the “mammy” archetype, which was popular in the United States from the 19th century and on through the 20th century in advertising (Aunt Jemima being one prominent example), and as a stock character in fiction and film (Hattie McDaniel’s characters in Gone with the Wind (1939) and Song of the South (1946) as examples).

Lovecraft’s poem appears to be a response to Kleiner’s; the meter, length, and the shared details (Ethel as being dressed entirely in one color, both women are world-weary, etc.) definitely suggest this relationship. Give the quasi-seriousness of Kleiner’s effort, I suspect Lovecraft wrote his poem as a jocular rejoinder, satirically poking fun at his friend’s effort to pity and commiserate with someone he shared so little in common with. That is speculative, but it would certainly have been apt if Kleiner wrote his poem of the “wan and pale” Ethel, dressed in black, and Lovecraft countered with the exact racial opposite—a black Cindy, dressed in red.

The nastiness of Lovecraft’s poem stems largely from his reliance on stereotype. His major negative inference on Cindy’s appearance is her obesity (“Some three hundred pounds in weight”), and this is in keeping with Lovecraft’s general attitude, as he disliked fat—to the point that when he himself began to push 200 pounds during his marriage in the mid-1920s (the result of his wife’s cooking and eating out), he took to a strenuous “diet” that saw him shed the “excess” weight—and established the poor eating habits which would stick with him all of his life. This is compounded when Lovecraft ascribes one of the potential “blights” on Cindy’s life as “watermelon”—he’s basically using both a racial stereotype (that African-Americans love watermelon) to suggest that Cindy’s weight is a result of gluttony, rather than, say, a poor diet and chronic lack of sleep caused by working long hours for low pay.

The watermelon stereotype was extremely common during the period—at least one of the many postcards Lovecraft sent that survive might serve as an example of how ubiquitous it was, and how innocuous and “self-evident” it might have seemed at the time to Lovecraft. Lovecraft also liked watermelon, hence the annotation at the bottom of the card.

watermelon

The major question with this poem might well be: how racist is it? That it is racist isn’t arguable; Lovecraft clearly uses the racial stereotypes of the 1900s in its depiction of an African-American woman. Beyond those images though—it’s hard to say if this rises about the racist background count of the 1920s. It is certainly not a specifically positive view of a working-class African-American woman; and it is probably damning with faint praise to say that it doesn’t call for violence, use a racial pejorative, or ascribe any negative attribute or predilection to Cindy based on race beyond a hypothetical fondness for watermelon. In that sense, Lovecraft was contributing to the overall stereotypes regarding black people, but the best that can be said is he doesn’t appear to have been particularly malicious in their use. The most honest aspect of the poem is undoubtedly the last line, where Lovecraft writes: “Glad I am, that I’m not she!”

Readers might also ask how misogynist these poems are. We don’t get a lot of context for the poems except that these are two working-class women, black and white, employed in relatively menial positions, and we can assume that they have to work for a living and have done for some indeterminate but long period of time. The depictions aren’t entirely negative, but both also assume that whatever spark of joy life had for these women is gone, and that is what makes them pitiable, or at least sympathetic. However, the perspective is very much through the eyes of the someone else—the women don’t get to talk about their experiences in their own voice, we get no peek into their inner life.

The poems, basically, tell us more about the poets than their supposed subjects.

“Cindy: Scrub-Lady in a State Street Skyscraper” has been published in a number of collections of Lovecraft’s poetry; Kleiner’s “Ethel: Cashier in a Broad Street Buffet” is a bit more scarce, being rarely republished since its initial appearance in The Tryout. Both are in the public domain, and both have been reprinted in the appendices to Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

The Gentleman from Angell Street (2001) by Muriel E. Eddy & C. M. Eddy Jr.

I have, I may remark, been able to secure Mr. Baird’s acceptance of two tales by my adopted son Eddy, which he had before rejected. Upon my correcting them, he profest himself willing to print them in early issues; they being intitul’d respectively “Ashes”, and “The Ghost-Eater”. In exchange for my revisory service, Eddy types my own manuscripts in the approv’d double-spac’d form; this labour being particularly abhorrent to my sensibilities.

But I must give over these my remarks, for I must take a nap against the afternoon; when (tho’ ’tis devilish cold) I am pledg’d to visit my son Eddy in East-Providence, & help him with his newest fiction, a pleasing & morbid study in hysterical necrophily, intitul’d “The Lov’d Dead”.
—H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 20 Oct 1923, Letters to James F. Morton 57

The Gentleman from Angell Street: Memories of H. P. Lovecraft (2001) is a collection of the reminiscences of H. P. Lovecraft by the Eddy family, who lived in East Providence and first became acquainted with Lovecraft while he lived at 598 Angell St. in Providence, Rhode Island. All of the non-fiction pieces in this slim collection had been previously published, but all of them had been out-of-print for decades, so the slim collection was a bit of boon to researchers in not having to pay collectors’ prices to read them.

Muriel Elizabeth (Gammons) Eddy and Clifford Martin Eddy, Jr. were married in 1918; they were both writers, in various genres, and Muriel in particular would be president of the Rhode Island Writers’ Guild for over 20 years, while Eddy would have a pulp career that included three stories revised in part by their Providence neighbor H. P. Lovecraft, which were published in Weird Tales—and much else that Lovecraft never had a hand in besides. Students of Lovecraft’s letters will remember the way Lovecraft pleaded with another revision client, Zealia Brown Reed, to give Eddy the job of typing her manuscripts as the Great Depression set in and pushed the Eddys to the brink of poverty.

While Lovecraft was closest to C. M. Eddy, Jr., to the extant of calling him one of his “adopted” sons or grandchildren, it was Muriel E. Eddy that wrote the most about her family’s relationship with H. P. Lovecraft. Her first memoir, “Howard Phillips Lovecraft” was published in Rhode Island on Lovecraft (1945) alongside “Lovecraft and Benefit Street” (1943) by Dorothy C. Walter and other works. In 1961 she expanded that essay into “The Gentleman from Angell Street”, and wrote several other short pieces, some privately printed, including H. P. Lovecraft Esquire: Gentleman (no date), The Howard Phillips Lovecraft We Knew (n.d.), “Memories of H. P. L.” (1965), “Lovecraft’s Marriage and Divorce” (1968), Howard Philips Lovecraft: The Man and the Image (1969), and “Lovecraft: Among the Demons” (1970). In addition to this, she wrote a number of letters, some published and some surviving at the John Hay Library where she weighed in on the early biographical sketch of Lovecraft by Winfield Townley Scott and Sonia H. Davis’ memoir of her former husband.

The rest of the family was rather more limited. C. M. Eddy Jr. published “Walks with H. P. Lovecraft” in The Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces (1966, Arkham House), and their daughter Ruth M. Eddy wrote “The Man Who Came At Midnight” (1949).

The activeness of Muriel E. Eddy in publishing and discussing her experiences with Lovecraft from the late 1930s until her death 1978 means that she had a rather substantial influence on Lovecraft scholarship during that period. To illustrate this, L. Sprague de Camp’s critical H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography (1975) cites seven of Muriel E. Eddy’s publications, plus C. M. Eddy and Ruth M. Eddy’s contributions. In general, these memoirs can be said to be honest and valuable contributions to the understanding of Lovecraft’s life…but are they accurate?

The accuracy of memoirs is important; human memories are imperfect, and tend to fade and distort over time or under influence. Yet these accounts are often all we have to go on for many events and details of life. The more accurate a memoir is, that is the more of it that we can verify according to other documents of the period (Lovecraft’s letters, census data, city maps and directories, etc.), the more we can count the memoir as a reliable source of data for the information that cannot be so independently verified. With some of these memoirs, written decades after the events…and given that they are often the sole source for some of the anecdotes regarding Lovecraft, it is important to look at some of these sources critically.

C. M. Eddy’s “Walks With Lovecraft,” describing their gambols and hikes together in and out of the city, can be said to be reasonably accurate and reliable, insofar as the details of Lovecraft jive with what we know from his lettersthere is, for example, an extended account by Lovecraft of their search for “Dark Swamp,” which agrees fairly closely with C. M. Eddy’s version. There are one or two spots where Eddy may be mistaken, but overall it is a solid essay.

Muriel E. Eddy’s memoirs are a bit more complicated to deal with. The 1945 version “Howard Phillips Lovecraft,” written less than a decade after the subject’s death, is relatively straightforward and accuratethough with little slips here and there; she recalled the Dark Swamp adventure, but referred to it as Black Swamp. Still, it provides a good bit of detail on their association, including some unique insights on the revision-work that Lovecraft did for C. M. Eddy, Jr. and many notes on Lovecraft’s habits and character traits that jive exactly with his letters. The later, expanded version that is “The Gentleman from Angell Street” and appears in the eponymous booklet adds much interesting detailbut the accuracy of this new information, and thus the reliability of the whole account, is less.

For example, Muriel E. Eddy wrote:

Our acquaintance with the Lovecraft family stemmed through my husband’s mother having once met Sarah Lovecraft at a “Women Suffrage” meeting,… although I never learned whether or not Howard’s mother really believed believed in equal rights for women.
—Muriel E. Eddy, The Gentleman from Angell Street 4

This is an intriguing detail, since we know so little (relatively speaking) about Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft, and far from impossible. It might explain some of Lovecraft’s attitudes towards women and women’s rights as expressed in his life and letters. However, the memoir also includes a number of small speculations and anecdotes, and these tended to get more evident the further into the expanded essay the reader gets. Some of the anecdotes are likely true, but are strongly influenced by Muriel’s rosey-hued nostalgia; for example when she wrote:

Mrs. Gamwell also gave the children about a hundred picture postcards that Sonia had mailed to Howard. These all held loving, spirited messages to H.P.L. from his sweetheart in New York. Not knowing their possible value in the far-away future, I did not hold on to any of these cards bearing Sonia’s signature, written in her breezy, happy handwriting. It was plain to be seen, from the messages on the cards, that this pretty woman of writing ability—among her other gifts—really liked our H.P.L.! And the strange part of it all was that he had not once mentioned his love affair to us…and we were his very good friends.

The children played for hours with the cards, and they eventually went the way all children’s toys go…in the ash-heap! (ibid. 17)

If a reader traced Muriel’s accounts of Lovecraft over the years, some details shift in the telling. Notably, her account of the extant of Lovecraft’s revision of “The Loved Dead” changes over time, and is a bit at odds with her husband’s own account, given in the Summer 1948 issue of the Arkham Sampler; her insistence on C. M. Eddy Jr.’s sole authorship was likely a response to August Derleth and Arkham House’s publication of stories which Lovecraft had revised or ghostwritten with the emphasis on Lovecraft’s contribution. So too, her references to Lovecraft’s mother seem to shift to reflect views on Susan Lovecraft in line with other memoirs—and this kind of “alignment” of views can easily distort the historical picture, since it appears that several contemporary memoirs are supporting the same image, when in reality later sources may be partially based on earlier ones. A tricky knot to untangle when a memoir is “revised” as “The Gentleman from Angell Street” was.

The most substantial difference between the 1945 and 1961 essays however is the section dealing with Lovecraft’s revision client Hazel Heald.

In this same year, 1932, I formed a little New England writers’ club of my own, and one of my members, a divorcee was very anxious to succeed in the weird writing field. She sent me an original manuscript with a very passable plot, yet told unconvincingly and amateurishly. I let Lovecraft read it when next he came over to our house on Pearl Street, and he agreed that it did have possibilities. (ibid, 22-23)

This is the start of Muriel E. Eddy’s account of “The Man of Stone” (1932) by Hazel Heald & H. P. Lovecraft. For quite a long time, this was the only such account; Lovecraft wrote little about much of his revision work, and Heald’s own version of events is largely unpublished, although she makes an allusion to the Eddys in a letter:

About HPL and whether he was separated or divorced—I am certain he was divorced but have written to someone I know who will give me all the facts as her husband signed certain papers at that time.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 7 Apr 1937

C. M. Eddy Jr. is claimed to have signed the Lovecrafts’ divorce decree as a witness, though Lovecraft himself did not sign it. So while Heald does not give the exact circumstances of her and Lovecraft coming together, there is nothing to directly counter Muriel E. Eddy’s version of events. At the same time, there is every evidence that Muriel E. Eddy’s version of events was including some information from her friend Hazel Heald, at second- or third-hand.

A skeptical scholar might thus wonder how much of it that Muriel E. Eddy knew and neglected to tell in 1945, versus how much of it she heard about later and incorporated into her expanded memoir—and on top of that, how much Muriel E. Eddy’s rose-tinted spectacles were skewing her account. Particularly notable in “The Gentleman from Angell Street” is her suggestion that Heald held a romantic interest in Lovecraft, and:

With a little encouragement, I am convinced that H.P.L. and Hazel might have married, and they would have made a good pair. But Lovecraft knew his health was failing, and perhaps he did not feel like taking a chance on another marriage, seeing that his first one had failed so miserably.
—Muriel E. Eddy, The Gentleman from Angell Street 26

This kind of speculation, and the obvious incorporation of second-or-third-hand information that fed into it, make “The Gentleman from Angell Street” less reliable of a source than it could have been. Which is unfortunate, given that we otherwise have little information on the Heald-Lovecraft stories besides the brief mentions in Lovecraft’s letters, and the sparing accounts given in Heald’s surviving correspondence with August Derleth.

An addendum to “The Gentleman from Angel Street” published in 1977 discusses the death of Sonia H. Davis and August Derleth; these memories are brief, vivid, and fairly accurate. She ends with the rather bittersweet yet hopeful note:

Thus the original Lovecraftian circle has been dwindling, and yet, a new one grows in ever widening arcs among the interest generated by fanzine magazines, biographies of HPL, and the eternal works and character of the man himself. (ibid. 29)

Ruth M. Eddy was born in 1921; she would have been only about two years old when Lovecraft met her parents and first visited their house in 1923, and five when Lovecraft returned to Providence after his stay in New York City. Her brief memoir of his visit was published in 1949, and it may be wondered how much of this she actually remembered at such a young age…but some things do stick in the memory, long after children grow up. So she wrote “The Man Who Came At Midnight:”

Gaslight flicked eerily through the crack in my bedroom door. It was Halloween, night of the supernatural, and long past midnight. I had drifted off to sleep with visions of hobgoblins and Jack-o’-lanterns drifting through my childish mind. Suddenly, as in a dream, I heard a sepulchral voice saying, “Slithering…sliding…squealing…the rats in the walls!”

Half-asleep, half-awake, I lay in the darkness for a moment, and then shouted for my mother as loudly as I could. She came into my room and spoke softly, “Everything’s all right, dear. It’s just Mr. Lovecraft telling us about the new story he’s writing. Don’t be afraid. Go back to sleep…[“]
—Ruth M. Eddy, The Gentleman from Angell Street 59

Ruth’s accounts jive with her mother’s memoir of Lovecraft’s early visits; from Lovecraft’s letters, we know “The Rats in the Walls” was written at about the time he met the Eddys, so it would not be surprising if he read his story aloud to his new friends. Given that this was published after Muriel E. Eddy’s account, there’s also the strong possibility that Ruth was influenced by her mother’s memoir, or at least her parent’s version of events.

There is not much in “The Man Who Came At Midngith” for scholarly interest; no new tidbit of information to seize on—but most memoirs aren’t written for academia, as a record of key facts and vital statistics, or even to set the record straight. They are simply a record of impressions and anecdotes, to keep the memory of the individual from being forgotten as those who knew them in turn grow old and die. Sometimes entertaining, sometimes insightful or gutwrenching—when the person is gone, a life is made of such moments, recalled and set down by those they touched. Or if not a life, then the first step from a pallid ghost to becoming a living myth.

Not a Halloween has passed since Lovecraft’s death in 1937 without my family fathering for the reading aloud of a weird story by our favourite author—now internationally famous as a writer in the genre—although our eloquence cannot compare with his masterful interpretations. (ibid. 61)

The Gentleman from Angell Street: Memories of H. P. Lovecraft was published in 2001 by Fenham Publishing, founded by Jim Dyer, the grandson of C. M. Eddy Jr. and Muriel E. Eddy.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“Lovecraft and Benefit Street” (1943) by Dorothy C. Walter

The house was—and for that matter still is—of a kind to attract the attention of the curious. Originally a farm or semi-farm building, it followed the average New England colonial lines of the middle eighteenth century—the prosperous peaked-roof sort, with two stories and dormerless attic, and with the Georgian doorway and interior panelling dictated by the progress of taste at that time. It faced south, with one gable end buried to the lower windows in the eastward rising hill, and the other exposed to the foundations toward the street. Its construction, over a century and a half ago, had followed the grading and straightening of the road in that especial vicinity; for Benefit Street—at first called Back Street—was laid out as a lane winding amongst the graveyards of the first settlers, and straightened only when the removal of the bodies to the North Burial Ground made it decently possible to cut through the old family plots.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shunned House”

Dorothy Charlotte Walters was secretary of the League of Vermont Writers, a worker on the Vermont Commission on Country Life, and local historian and writer who had attended Brown University in Providence.  She met H. P. Lovecraft only once, in the summer of 1934 while visiting Providence; her memoir of that meeting was later published as “Three Hours with H. P. Lovecraft” (1959). But her first memoir of Lovecraft, published in 1943, as “Lovecraft and Benefit Street.” It is one of the first such memoirs of Lovecraft by any of his female acquaintances.

Returning from such rambles in space and time to his desk in his sightly study from which he overlooked the treetops of Benefit Street, dark against the sky-glow of downtown Providence, he spent night after night, which was his working time, using the familiar localities, the characteristic family and Christian names of Rhode Island, and factual details of the present and past of the life and business of Providence to furnish a setting for tales and doings that were strange indeed.
—Dorothy C. Walter, “Lovecraft and Benefit Street”

At the time they met, Lovecraft was ensconced at 66 College Street, his final home; the window in Lovecraft’s study offered a good view of the treetops and roofs lower down the hill. Walter’s piece combines elements of biography and literary criticism; it is obvious she either read or re-read a good chunk of Lovecraft’s fiction before writing this piece, probably from the first Arkham House collection The Outsider and Others (1939) which she mentions later on in the piece. Some of her observations are more cogent than others:

In the making of imaginative tales of the sort that Mr. Lovecraft wrote there cannot help being a good deal of claptrap and mumbo-jumbo. His stories suffer, if too many are read in quick succession, from similarity in the method of producing a weird atmosphere. It is easy to tire of gothic effects in landscape and in weather when one knows that by such artifices one is being “softened up” to be bowled over at the appropriate moment by the horror of the narrative. One longs for a mystery to develop in a neat, ordinary house, or for a homicide committed in brilliant daylight. Many of the stories are too long. Cutting would have improved them. And Mr. Lovecraft leaned too heavily on a few trick words that had come to have a heightened significance for him—nameless and forbidden, for example, to mention two. He also relied much too often on references to things distasteful to himself that he assumed would produce similar feelings of aversion or fear or disgust in others—fishy odors, for instance, which he couldn’t endure and used again and again as a symbol of the evil and the malevolent; the strangeness of the foreigner; the unpleasantness of things squirmy and slimy; and chief of all, the sensation of cold. […] He would have agreed with Dante in making hell cold. (ibid.)

Subjective assessments aside, there are criticisms and observations in Walter’s piece which would be repeated by many others—indeed, some of the myths about Lovecraft may have been partially popularized by her little memoir. The main thrust of her article is not just about Lovecraft, but about Benefit Street itself, and here it should be remembered that Walter and Lovecraft were of an age—she was born in 1889, he in 1890—and shared a few of the same influences and, probably, prejudices. So in describing the street, she wrote:

One can savor early Providence under its elms, or the Yankee Providence of today, and one can also travel to foreign lands without leaving the street, if one has an open sesame to the pleasant hospitality of the Syrian, Portuguese, and Jewish homes that cluster around its opposite ends. (ibid.)

Benefit Street also provides the setting of “The Shunned House,” and so  involves one of the more dramatic and complicated publishing histories in the Lovecraftian corpus. Robert Weinberg wrote an excellent article on the publishing history of “The Shunned House,” but the short version is that in 1928, Lovecraft’s friend W. Paul Cook—a small-time printer—offered to publish the story in an edition of 250 copies. It would have been Lovecraft’s first standalone hardcover publication. Nothing went right. The edition was printed, but not bound; some of the unbound sheets were bound by R. H. Barlow, and later still some were bound by Arkham House, becoming an odd collector’s item long after Lovecraft’s death, with asking prices in the thousands of dollars (and at least one set of forgeries). The general failure of the book to be properly published during his lifetime was one of Lovecraft’s many discouragements and regrets in the writing game. Cook mentions the printing briefly in his own memoir “In Memoriam: Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Recollections, Appreciations, Estimates” (1941), which is probably all that Walter knew of the matter.

Her own approach to this confluence of Lovecraft and local history comes by way of an anecdote:

But one below-zero night in northern Vermont, in search of a bedtime story, she opened the huge Lovecraft volume that a friend had loaned her. Her eye chanced on a familiar name in a story entitled “The Shunned House,” and she read on just where she had opened the book, astonished to find herself in Providence, wandering along Benefit Street. It was pleasant to be so transported so unexpectedly to a neighborhood well known since college days, interesting and amusing to find it figuring as a setting for the outrageous events of a weird tale when she had always considered it seemly and sedate. She read on, absorbed in the pleasures of recollection. And before she knew it, she was getting shivers and a crinkly spine out of the hair-raising particulars of an uncanny and not very believable yarn. Well, of course it was late, and a very cold night! But what more could a writer of weird fiction have asked for his efforts! (ibid)

Walter’s memoir doesn’t offer any uniquely critical insight into Lovecraft: their association was too brief. Yet it as an example, if any be needed, at how we all touch the lives of others, and might be remembered afterwards by those we knew but briefly. Walter has her few anecdotes of Lovecraft, expands on his fiction and character through her own lens, and even though there is little hard data here that you won’t find anywhere else, she still adds what little she has to the store of Lovecraftian lore. We are richer for her brief memoirs of Lovecraft than we would be without them.

“Lovecraft on Benefit Street” was first published by W. Paul Cook in The Ghost #1 (1943), reprinted by his Driftwind Press as a small chapbook, reprinted again in the fanzine Xenon (July 1944), and finally reached something like wider publication in Rhode Island on Lovecraft (1945, Donald M. Grant), and finally in Lovecraft Remembered (1998, Arkham House).

“Three Hours with Lovecraft” was first published in The Shuttered Room and Other Pieces (1959, Arkham House), republished in Lovecraft Remembered (1998, Arkham House), and again in Ave atque Vale: Reminiscences of H. P. Lovecraft (2018, Necronomicon Press)


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Natalie H. Wooley

I should say that weird fans who have a taste in liking the outre in literature have a superior taste, rather than a morbid one, a sign of an inquiring mind, that is not satisfied with Wild West, Gangster, or sickly mediocre love stories. But to explore the hidden corners of things, whether it be the universe, the mind, or the supernatural, is providing that one’s mind is not smug or narrow. If this be madness, insanity, or morbidity, glory in it, you weird and fantasy fans. 
—Natalie H. Wooley,
The Fantasy Fan May 1934

Natalie Hartley Wooley wrote to Lovecraft by way of Weird Tales in c. June 1933, inquiring into the reality of the strange tomes and Mythos in his fiction. While we cannot say for certain what prompted her letter, Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch House” was published in the July 1933 issue, which hit stands the month before. Lovecraft, as he always did, revealed that it was an artificial mythology. The correspondence went on from there.

She was 29 years old in 1933, and her son George was nine years old. Biographical details are scarce; very few of her letters appear to have survived, and we have only Lovecraft’s side of the the correspondence, amounting to 15 letters (or parts thereof) from 1933 to 1936. Wooley was also a member of Lovecraft’s late round robin letter group the Coryciani, of which 4 letters survive from 1934-1936. More of her own writing survives in early fanzines and amateur journalism.

It appears that through Lovecraft, Wooley was introduced to both amateur journalism and early science fiction fandom—and joined both. Wooley was a poet, and perhaps had aspirations to be a writer. Lovecraft’s letters give lists of weird fiction that a dedicated fan might read, sources for occult lore ranging from The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) by Margaret A. Murray to medieval grimoires and Theosophy, and advice on writing and being published. Perhaps aware of how he had advised revision clients like Zealia Bishop in the past, Lovecraft wrote:

However—don’t bother with weird fiction at all unless you feel a genuine inclination toward it. It is the most difficult of all material to market professionally, & the circle of those who truly enjoy & appreciate it is always discouragingly small.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Natalie H. Wooley, 6 Aug 1933, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 191

Marketable or not, Wooley tried her hand at it. Her short story of a murderer on death’s row feeling the ghostly revenge of another was published as “Spurs of Death” in The Fantasy Fan (Dec 1933). Acclaim was modest; Lovecraft’s letter in the January 1934 issue reads “All the stories are excellent and the departments are as interesting as usual.”; H. C. Koenig in the February issue wrote “this Wooley person certainly did a very nice job with her story.”

More effusive praise would come for Wooley’s poetry, much of it from Lovecraft himself. Still, she was in the mix and among the fans; her poems and fan-letters graced the pages of The Fantasy Fan and Marvel Tales in 1934 and 1935, and from Lovecraft’s responses it is clear that she read and commented on his fiction. Beyond that, Lovecraft appears to have recruited her to amateur journalism, where she had further outlet for her poetry and opinions:

A new voice in the National is that of Mrs. Natalie Hartley Wooley, whose brief, wistful lyrics strike one’s fancy with singular sharpness through certain faint overtones subtly suggesting magical vistas and dim regions beyond the confines of daylight reality. “Western Night”, in the Summer Goldenrod, has great charm and power; while “Flight”, in the October Sea Gull, unites with its general elfin quality a poignant human pathos.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Bureau of Critics” in the National Amateur (June 1934), Collected Essays 1.375

NATALIE HARTLEY WOOLEY, Kansas, is a member of both the National and United Amateur Press Associations and has contributed to Kansas City Star, Kansas City Journal-Post, Marvel Tales, The Fantasy Fan, and to The Christian Board of Publication periodicals. She wrote the lyrics for “Querida, a Spanish Serenade,” a song which may be heard on the radio.
“Who’s New,” Kaleidograph (Dec 1934), quoted in Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 10n7

As with most of Lovecraft’s letters, what began as a focus on weird fiction eventually grew broader. Wooley asked about Wiggam’s The Fruit of the Family Tree (1924), a popular work on eugenics, which led to a lengthy response from Lovecraft, touching on Nazi antisemitism and the 1933 law on compulsory sterilization, miscegenation and the color-line in the United States, and the rising power of and Westernization of Japan. Yet for the most part their letters concern weird fiction, fellow fans, and especially in the Coryciani letters, poetry. One such letter shows Lovecraft’s appreciation for her verse:

Mrs. Wooley’s contribution is rich in illuminating comments & examples. She is, it would seem, right in believing that both simple & involvedly mystical & allusive (within reasonable limits) verse have a definite & unchallengeable place in the aesthetic scheme. Like Mr. Adams’s, her preferences run to the philosophical—albeit in a somewhat less concrete fashion. A certain wistful, elusive mysticism—involving touches of the whimsical, the fantastic, & the delicately spectral—often characterises Mrs. Wooley’s own verses—as the columns of amateur journalism amply attest.
—H. P. Lovecraft to the Coryciani, 17 Mar 1935, Lovecraft Annual (2017) #11 136-137

As an example of her poetry, this bit of verse was squeezed in after a few verses of the Fungi from Yuggoth and before Robert E. Howard’s “Voices of the Night” in The Fantasy Fan (Jan 1935):

THE ALIEN
by Natalie H. Wooley

She is like living golden flame.
She knows not whence or why she came
       Into this world…and yet at times
I hear her call strange gods by name.

There is no warmth in her embrace,
Of human passions not a trace.
       She seems remote, a thing attuned
To summonings from outer space.

And on each starry, moonlit night
She gazes long in rapt delight
        Toward the skies…while I weep
Lest the message come, and she take flight.

Robert E. Howard was another author that interested Wooley. She must have read his Conan story “Beyond the Black River” (Weird Tales May-Jun 1935) with enthusiasm, and written to Lovecraft about him, for Lovecraft wrote back:

Yes—Robert E. Howard is a notable author—more powerful & spontaneous than even he himself realises. He tends to get away from weirdness toward sheer sanguinary adventure, but there is still no one equal to him in describing haunted cyclopean ruins in an African or Hyperborean jungle. He has written reams of powerful poetry, also—most of which is still unpublished.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Natalie H. Wooley, 28 Jun 1935, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 205

Wooley excerpted a passage from “Beyond the Black River” for a brief critical work titled “The Adventure Story,” published in The Californian (Fall 1935). She praised the Texan as a writer—one of the few such critical assessments he would ever get in his short life.

There, my friends, is writing. A paragraph of less than a hundred words, yet combining description, menace, and a hint of action to come. Each word is carefully chosen. Note that artfully worded last sentence, with its intimation of impending conflict; sustaining the reader’s interest through what otherwise might be a rather colorless bit of description. Mr. Howard, well known adventure-fiction story writer, is one of the few who do not sacrifice beautiful narrative style for the action demanded in such stories, but combines the two masterfully.
—Natalie H. Wooley, “The Adventure Story,” reprinted in Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 441

Robert E. Howard received a copy of The Californian, and wrote back—though any further contact was cut short by his suicide in 1936.

Thank you very much for the copy of The Californian. I feel greatly honored that Miss Wooley should have quoted an excerpt from my serial “Beyond the Black River” in her article in your fine journal.
—Robert E. Howard to The Californian (Summer 1936)

Lovecraft’s friend and future literary executor R. H. Barlow moved to Kansas City to attend the art institute there in 1936; through their mutual friend and correspondent Barlow and Wooley got in touch. It is the only time that Wooley is known to have met with anyone else in the Lovecraft circle—or science fiction fandom in general.

No letters to Wooley or mention of her survives in Lovecraft’s correspondence past December 1936; no doubt his fatal illness curtailed their back-and-forth. We may get a sense of her side of the correspondence from a single letter that survives at the John Hay Library among Lovecraft’s papers—this was sent from Wooley to E. A. Edkins, who forwarded it to Lovecraft.

WooleyLetter

Wooley did not immediately disappear from view; The Fantasy Fan and Marvel Tales, her main outlets for fandom, had both faltered, but she was still active in amateur journalism for a time. A favorite example is her assessment of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922):

As erotica, the book is a disappointment. Some of Boccaccio or Balzac, or the modern writers Bodenheim and Donald Henderson Clarke outstrip it completely. As history, it is
insignificant. As a text-book of hitherto deleted words, it leaves little to the imagination.
—Natalie H. Wooley, “Well, I’ve Read It” in Nix Nem (Dec 1936), quoted in The Fossil 345

What did Lovecraft’s correspondence mean to Natalie H. Wooley? It encouraged her writing and poetry, helped her find new outlets to publish her work. She was, whether she knew it or not, in the thick of early fandom, and her voice was heard among writers who would grow to become legends—though she herself is nearly forgotten today, her poetry lives on.

Lovecraft’s letters with Natalie H. Wooley, along with a selection of her poetry and critical writings from amateur journalism have been published in Letters to Robert Bloch & Others (2015, Hippocampus Press); some of these letters had previously been published in volume 4 and 5 of the Selected Letters from Arkham House. The letters to the Coryciani have been published in Lovecraft Annual #11 (2017, Hippocampus Press).

Thanks and appreciation to Dave Goudsward for his help on this one.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“In the Confessional” (1892) by Adolphe Danziger de Castro

However, not long after “The Electric Executioner” saw print, Lovecraft made a curious reference:

None of our firm has had very good success in placing clients’ manuscripts—though I did accidentally land Yig, and three tales of Old Dolph’s—but I am convinced that failures on the part of different members have been for almost opposite reasons.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, 3 Nov 1930, Selected Letters 3.204

In late 1929 or early 1930, editor of Weird Tales Farnsworth Wright announced that the company would be launching a new magazine: Strange Stories.

By the way—Wright tells me he is about to launch another magazine, devoted to “stories which are truly strange & unusual in plot.” All subjects will be included—even weird stuff now & then. I don’t suppose this opening will mean much to me, but it ought to mean a new market for one of your versatility.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 25 Feb 1930, Essential Solitude 1.249

Farnsworth tells me that the company is going to publish another magazine this summer, using stories of all sorts, so long as they are somewhat out of the ordinary. I gather that they don’t have to be impossible, but just different from the general run of stories. I’m hoping to just about double my income from his company when that magazine comes out. Of course, I may not be able to sell them a blightin’ thing.
—Robert E. Howard to Tevis Clyde Smith, c. Feb 1930, Collected Letters 2.17

The issue is a little confused, since in June 1930 Wright announced yet another magazine, Oriental Stories, and Strange Stories was never published. Macfadden had published the short-lived pulp True Strange Stories (Mar-Nov 1929) and claimed rights to the title. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard both comment on the legal dispute in their letters which dragged out for months. Lovecraft summarized things succinctly:

As for Wright’s projected third magazine—I am astonished that you have not heard of the plan before! The idea—broached first a year or more ago—was for a magazine to contain wildly unusual & bizarre stories, not excluding a few weird items; & it progressed to a stage where Wright actually began accepting tales for it. He took items from Belknap, & from my odd old Biercian client, Dr. Dangizer–de Castro. I had not known what the name was to be, until Robert E. Howard spoke of the conflict with Macfadden’s. I saw an issue or two of the defunct Macfadden thing a year & a half ago, when Vrest Orton tried to write for it; but did not know that the name remained a legal entity after the collapse of the venture itself. Now that the W.T. company is in such an evident mess, (did you receive the form letter urging patience about remittances?) I hardly expect the third magazine to be started at all. Just how serious Wright’s intentions ever were, one can’t be sure. I fancy it was always a vague future project with him.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 25 Dec 1930, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 285 

Nowhere in his correspondence does Lovecraft give the title of the third revision, and it isn’t clear when it was done, except that it must be between December 1929 (“two de Castro jobs” DS 285) and November 1930 (“three tales of Old Dolph’s” SL3.204); this could explain the long genesis of “The Electric Executioner,” if Lovecraft was actually revising two tales. The only reference to this third revision discovered so far are in the unpublished letters of Lovecraft’s literary executor R. H. Barlow:

How about The Electric Executioner & The Last Test? Old de Castro has an unpublished HPL “revision” – In the Confessional, which it might be well to harpoon.
—R. H. Barlow to August Derleth, 6 May [1937?]

I think I mentioned the unpublished MS about Poland, which he ghosted for old de Castro, & which remains in his possession. The Last Test & The Electric Executioner are absolutely HP’s, by his own admission.
—R. H. Barlow to August Derleth, 20 June [1937?]

“In the Confessional” was the title story of In the Confessional and the Following (1893), and concerns a Polish countess in Paris; it was first published in The San Francisco Examiner May 1892. It was from this volume that de Castro’s two other stories that Lovecraft revised, “A Sacrifice to Science” and “The Automatic Executioner”, are drawn.

What Lovecraft might have added to “In the Confessional” is mostly unknown, but in another letter he wrote:

I’ve put Yog-Sothoth and Tsathoggua in yarns ghost-written for Adolphe de Castro […]
—H. P. Lovecraft to Emil Petaja, 31 May 1935, Letters with Donald and Howard Wandrei and to Emil Petaja 437

Since Yog-Sothoth appears in “The Last Test” and “The Electric Executioner” but Tsathoggua does not, it is possible that Tsathoggua has a reference in the third revision…and that is all we know about that. It is not even clear if the story would be weird fiction at all, if the market was Strange Stories.

The only possible reference to this story in de Castro’s extent correspondence is this anecdote to John Stanton of Arkham House:

Lovecraft and the late Mrs. de Castro and myself were at dinner at the Styvensen in New York. He had been revising a short story for me, the scene of which was laid in my native land, Poland. There had been some difference of opinion regarding the plot—made by correspondence. In response to his last letter I—stante pede, as it were, made a new plot and sent it to him. Thereupon he flattered me by saying that it was not likely I had so quickly made so new and excellent a plot. My reply was, “come to New York and we’ll discuss it.” At an elaborate bit of dinner we talked the matter over.
—Adolphe de Castro to John Stanton, 9 Mar 1949

Much of the story of “In the Confessional” is set in Poland, in a flashback/embedded narrative. If de Castro’s account is at all accurate, it would suggest that the final version worked up by Lovecraft would have varied from the original. This does not, unfortunately, help us identify the third revision. It is not clear when this would have occurred; Lovecraft mentions having dinner with de Castro at least twice in his letters to Lillian Clark during his 1928 stay in New York, but the phrase “come to New York” suggests Lovecraft was not there—so possibly 1929.

The Adolphe de Castro papers at the Jewish American Archives contain typescripts related to the other two Lovecraft revisions. Of the third revision, there is no obvious sign; de Castro’s papers contain no typescript titled “In the Confessional,” or any other English-language manuscript which suggests the plot or characters of that story. However, there is an undated typescript in Spanish titled “La Confesión de La Condesa Valera” which is a translation and expansion of de Castro’s English-language story.

Lovecraft scholars have been looking for a revision to “In the Confessional,” here among Adolphe de Castro’s papers we have a revision of “In the Confessional,” is this a previously unknown Lovecraft revision?

Probably not.

La Confesión de La Condesa Valera” is without a doubt an expansion and revision of “In the Confessional.” However, we have no idea when it was written (the typescript is undated), and the text itself shows no evidence of any Lovecraftian input. In part, this may well be due to the translation from English to Spanish, which would require the whole text to be filtered through de Castro once again, but more than that the story lacks any weird element, although there is a touch of science fiction at one point. There is no reference to Lovecraft’s artificial mythology, even as a red herring or bit of color.

It is not impossible to completely rule out Lovecraft having some influence on the tale, but it must be remembered that the information we have on the third de Castro revision in Lovecraft’s letters is very slight—Lovecraft himself never names the story; that was provided by Barlow in a letter to Derleth, and Barlow may have got it wrong, or confused the name of the revision with the name of the book from which the stories originally came. So there is no guarantee that we are even looking in the right place when we look for a revision of “In the Confessional.”

With an eye toward the possibilities, and admitting that we are in the realm of speculation, “In the Confessional” might actually have been a candidate for Strange Stories with a bit of work. The mutilation of the Countess Wanda’s face would have fit rather neatly into the “weird terror” or “shudder pulp” vein that was gaining popularity at the time, and Weird Tales included a few stories of this sort such as Seabury Quinn’s “The House of Horror” (1926), and the tragic ending is suitably poetic and bloody; if the prose had been reworked and maybe expanded a little, it could probably have sold. Would Lovecraft have taken this route? He could work with grue (“Herbert West–Reanimator,” “In the Vault,” “The Loved Dead” with C. M. Eddy), although he usually didn’t. Likewise, Lovecraft did not exclusively write weird fiction (“Sweet Ermengarde” being the most notable example), although he usually did.

La Confesión” is a fairly substantial revision of the original story–but not on those lines. The scene is moved to World War I, and embeds the original narrative into a story about a hunt for a German spy in France, with a romantic subplot. The happy ending, where it turns out the “poison” that Valera took is nothing poisonous at all, is a far cry from the original conte cruel finale, which is probably one of the few parts of the story Lovecraft might have approved of (although we do not have his exact response to the original story, Lovecraft called the book “execrable.”) These could well be taken as examples of updating the story and modifying it to be more salable—for what market, we have no idea. The only really notably strange part is a small science fiction element, which appears early in the story and is never mentioned again:

El Cura era un hombre de ciencia, y en el corto periodo de tiempo que hacía estaba en París, había perfeccionado una serie de cometas, con un sistema de placas sensitivas afectadas por Ias corrientes de aire. Estos cometas el hizo remontar, y de este modo pudo descubrir la dirección del gran cañón con el que el enemigo hostilizaba a París.

Para estas observaciones aéreas, había organizado un pequeño grupo de mujeres de su parróquia, y estaban dispuestas de tal manera en la torre de la iglesia, que formaban una cadena viviente, pudíendo dar al instante, a las autoridades información de cualquier movimiento en el cielo, sea cual fuere la altura o la distancia.
—Adolphe de Castro, “La Confesión de Valera,” American Jewish Archives (MS-348)

The Priest was a man of science, and in the short time he had been in Paris, he had perfected a series of kites, with a system of sensitive plates affected by air currents. He made these comets soar, and in this way he was able to discover the direction of the great cannon with which the enemy was harassing Paris.

For these aerial observations he had organized a small group of women from his parish, and they were arranged in such a way in the church tower that they formed a living chain, and could instantly give the authorities information of any movement in the sky, whatever the height or distance.
—Rough translation, “The Confession of Valera”

The language and construction, however, remains very much de Castro’s rather than Lovecraft’s. The odd framing device of Valera in the confessional telling her story through dialogue (and then Wanda telling Valera her story in a mess of a nested narrative) is handled almost exactly as it was in the original story; Lovecraft had handled complicated narratives before with much more grace in “The Call of Cthulhu” (1928), and it is hard to believe that he would have not restructured the narrative more readably if he had taken the job. Also notably absent is any description of the architecture of Paris or any other location, which would be an odd lack in a Lovecraft story.

There does not seem any given point in “La Confesión” that can be pointed out as representing a definite, or even likely, survival of Lovecraftian influence. If anything, a comparison of “In the Confessional” and “La Confesión” versus “A Sacrifice to Science” and “Surama of Atlantis” or “The Automatic Executioner” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” shows how substantially Lovecraft tended to rewrite these stories, compared to de Castro revising his own work, as is apparently the case with “La Confesión.”

So we are left with a story that is most interesting as a scholarly footnote: here it is, it exists, and there is little more to say about it. “La Confesión” in its current form does not appear to ever been published in English or Spanish, and may never be.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“Surama of Atlantis” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” (1953) by H. P. Lovecraft & Adolphe Danziger de Castro

To say that “The Surama of Atlantis” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” are discoveries is a bit of a misstep: they were never really lost. After de Castro’s death in 1959 his papers made their way to the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who in turn donated them to the American Jewish Archives in 1988 as Manuscript Collection No. 348. The excellent inventory of the de Castro collection by Chris Powell in 1996 notes both the existence of the texts and their relation to Lovecraft’s revisions. J.-M. Rajala noted in the 2011 Lovecraft Annual:

2 linear feet of de Castro’s papers, including unspecified manuscripts, are in the American Jewish Archives of the Hebrew Union College of Cincinnati (The Jacob Marcus Rader Center, MS-348), and I wonder if these have been carefully examined by anyone. (56)

Powell had, writing in “The Revised Adolphe de Castro” in Lovecraft Studies #36:

He minimally revised “The Electric Executioner” and retitled it “The Automatic Electric Executioner”. He also revised “The Last Test”, creating “The Surama of Atlantis”. He made minimal revisions to most of the story but made more substantial changes at the beginning to describe the origin of the shadowy character, Surama, and to the final outcome of the story. (24)

Powell also noted that:

“Surama of Atlantis” is planned to be included in The Nyarlathotep Cycle being edited by Robert M. Price for upcoming release by Chaosium. (24n14)

However, “Surama of Atlantis” and the other texts were not published in The Nyarlathotep Cycle or anywhere else, though Price thanks Chris Powell in his introduction. There is likely a story there, but the end is that “Surama of Atlantis” has remained in obscurity to the present day.

The original texts by Adolphe de Castro which Lovecraft worked from are those published within In the Confessional and the Following (1893). As is characteristic of Lovecraft, he completely rewrote both “The Automatic Executioner” and “A Sacrifice to Science.” Presumably this would also have been the case with the third revision, though no text of this revision is known to survive.

This work would initially have been done by hand; though no manuscript copies survive, and were later typed by someone (de Castro for “The Last Test,” Lovecraft for “The Electric Executioner”) for submission to Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales. These final typescripts are also non-extant, so it is not clear what editorial changes, if any, that Wright made when they were published in the pages of Weird Tales. Martin Andersson has pointed out that there are also minor differences between the Weird Tales texts and the version of the stories published in Something About Cats and Others (1949, Arkham House); these differences are not reflected in the AJA texts, so we can be reasonably certain de Castro did not reference the Arkham House text.

For the three new typescripts, the variations from the Weird Tales text include variant titles, spellings (and misspellings), typographical errors, and changes in phrase and formatting that range from slight to rewriting entire paragraphs. The most substantial differences are with “Surama of Atlantis,” which is about 500 words longer, adding a relatively substantial beginning scene and slightly expanded ending, among other changes.

It is difficult to say who is responsible for the differences between the Weird Tales texts and the AJA typescripts; part of the differences (typos, dropped and repeated words, etc.) can be put down to typist error, but not the insertion or substitution of phrases and entire passages. As these do not appear in the Weird Tales texts, they are either survivals from a previous draft (Lovecraft was known to do multiple drafts of stories), or were added in afterwards (almost certainly by de Castro). The possibility of both cannot be ruled out; that is de Castro may have re-typed “Surama of Atlantis” from an older draft of “Clarendon’s Last Test” by Lovecraft and made his own alterations on top of that. The very-unLovecraft-like passage that ends “????” is almost certainly from de Castro.

The passengers on the Satsu Maru cascaded down the gang-plank, glad to be once more on American soil. There was a slight pause in the flow and then a tall thin man, wearing a gray ulster and a fedora hat that shaded his bespectackled eyes, short nose and bearded chin appeared.

Following him was a pretty young woman, dressed in gray with a large straw hat, the brim held down over the ears by a wide blue ribbon. Her left hand held the chain of a gold mesh bag, while her right clutched the collar around the neck of a magnificent St. Bernard dog.

Closely following them was an individual, tall beyond the ordinary, garbed in a long black cape that hung on his shoulders, and covered his entire body, what was seen of his face when the wind lifted the wide brim of his soft large slouch hat, was shocking; it indicated that the head had no hair. His eyes, like glinting black obsidian, were set so deep in the sockets that they seemed black pools in a cavernous skull. In fact, a closer view strengthened the assumption that it was a skull. there was no nose other than a depression and there were no lips over the large yellow teeth.

A moment he stood still, gazing at the sunlit wharf, at the people, and the large Hotel bus which was stationed a short distance from the gangplank.

As the black-clad skeleton halted, it irritated the bespectackled gentleman who turned and said, “What makes you so slow, Surama?”

The individual called Surama, grinned horribly and said, “Coming, doctor.”
—Adolphe Danziger de Castro, “Surama of Atlantis,” Jewish American Archives (MS-348)

What parts of “Surama of Atlantis” were written by Adolphe de Castro, and why? What parts might be strange survivals from an earlier Lovecraft draft? Is there any way to tell? Objectively, no. Without access to Lovecraft’s original manuscript, it is impossible to say definitively one way or another. Yet we can say a few things.

Lovecraft did not make any fuss over substantial errors when “The Last Test” was published, so we can assume the text in Weird Tales is predominantly as he wrote it in the final draft. Also, given that the first title Lovecraft mentions in his letters is “Clarendon’s Last Test,” it is apparent that “Clarendon” was not a change made by de Castro to the manuscript sent to Weird Tales. In “Surama of Atlantis,” the doctor’s last name is “Schuyler” rather than Clarendon. It is also notable that the name “Schuyler” does appear in the Weird Tales script, as Alfred Schuyler Clarendon and Frances Schuyler Clarendon both attest. This oddity could be the result if Schuyler was the original name, and that Clarendon was then added later—but this presumes two drafts, an early draft and a final one. In any case, it is notable that at no point does de Castro revert to the names in “A Sacrifice for Science” (i.e. Clinton for Clarendon/Schuyler, et al.)

The character of Surama evolved from the character of Mort in “A Sacrifice to Science,” but the Atlantean background was pure Lovecraft—“De Castro wanted it excluded at first—but as it turned out, that was the one thing which Wright singled out to mention in describing the tale!” (Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 165) Much of the variant material in “Surama of Atlantis” focuses on Surama, from the title and the opening scene to the bizarre ending. If we do accept the idea that there was a previous draft, and that “Surama of Atlantis” retains several features from it, the most obvious are the ones that describe turtle-like attributes to Surama. In “The Last Test” only a single such descriptor exists:

Unlike the ideal subordinate, he seemed despite his impassive features to spend no effort in concealing such emotions as he possessed. Instead, he carried about an insidious atmosphere of irony or amusement, accompanied at certain moments by a deep, guttural chuckle like that of a giant turtle which has just torn to pieces some furry animal and is ambling away toward the sea.

In “Surama of Atlantis,” however, numerous references of turtle-like characteristics are applied to Surama. The idea of Surama as a kind of monstrous turtle-man works within the logic of the story except for one part: the double-aftermath.

In the afternoon the leisurely firemen overhauled the ruins and found two skeletons—or rather one human skeleton with the skull intact with the frame; of the other only the skull—a very human skull, but with osseous outlines disturbingly suggesting a saurian of some sort. The skull reminded people of Surama, and only well-cut clothing could have made a body as indicated by the skeleton look like a man.

An added horror to the situation was a big hole found under the stout fence back of the destroyed building, and Pat McMonigall, the street car watchman, returning from his beat, assured neighbors that he had seen “a turtle as big as a house” ambling down the hill to the bay, a statement that was not take quite seriously, although Pat McMonigall was a rather abstemious chap. Did Surama go back to Atlantis????
—Adolphe Danziger de Castro, “Surama of Atlantis,” Jewish American Archives (MS-348)

It is completely incongruous for Surama to make his way back down to the sea and to leave behind a skull and skeleton for paleontologists to muddle over, at least not unless Surama was wearing the skull like a hat and peering out through the eye-sockets. If this is a survival from an earlier draft, it isn’t clear how this discrepancy might be resolved—either de Castro wrote the entire ending himself (the unLovecraftian line “Did Surama go back to Atlantis????” is almost certainly his; it reads like an annotation accidentally copied onto the line), or possibly de Castro borrowed verbiage from the Weird Tales version and grafted it onto the earlier draft to give a double-aftermath where there was only one before.

It is also worth noting that in the Weird Tales version, it is specified “that’s all that can reach him, James, unless you can catch him asleep and drive a stake through his heart.” A very vampire-like touch which is at odds with Surama as a kind of turtle, but also much simpler and perhaps more reasonable in keeping with his corpse-like appearance. This is changed in “Surama of Atlantis,” with the suggestion that no ordinary weapon can pierce his shell.

A less evident but more serious problem in “Surama of Atlantis” is the question of narration: who is the narrator? Lovecraft gives no specific identity, the story is related anonymously. Yet the beginning of “Surama of Atlantis” specifies that the narrator is a reporter who was injured by Surama and has not long to live, while the ending states:

Dalton probably gave Dr. Jackson an inkling of the truth, and that good soul had not many secrets from his son, who is the writer of these lines.” (ibid.)

It is a very unLovecraftian mistake; but is it the case of a botch in trying to merge an earlier draft with the later Weird Tales text, or de Castro failing to notice the discrepancy as he added his own additions to the story? Notably, there is a reporter who is injured (though not seriously) by Surama in the course of the story, who plays a key role in events; however, if Lovecraft provided such an opening, would he not have also included a suitable closing? It seems an odd plot hook to leave hanging.

It is important to note several places where the Weird Tales text has expanded on the same text in “Surama of Atlantis.” The appointment of Schuyler/Clarendon to San Quentin is given much more space in “The Last Test,” which foreshadows the governor’s political struggles and losing his appointment power. The benefits of Schuyler/Clarendon’s appointment are noted at greater length, as is the emotional argument when Dalton asks for Georgina’s hand in marriage. Instructing Dalton to blot out the Greek passages but send Miller the notebooks makes much more narrative sense than just telling Dalton to blot out and burn everything, as happens in “Surama of Atlantis.” These are the kind of changes which reinforce the narrative as a whole—and they are the kind of changes that one would expect to see between earlier and successive drafts.

It is the omissions as much as anything which suggests that de Castro was not working directly from a copy of Weird Tales. There does not seem to be any narrative reason to have not copied these sections as-is, since they have little overall impact on the other changes in the story. Yet this cannot be taken proof positive of an earlier draft; it could simply be that de Castro made all the changes on his own. It is notable that of the major changes, two—the extended opening and ending—provide an identity for the narrator of the story. The burrowing-turtle aftermath leaves the story open for a hypothetical sequel.

The rest of the changes are minor, and a couple are mysterious. “The Last Test” refers to the Royal Hotel, which burned down in 1906; “Surama of Atlantis” instead refers to the Phelan Building—which also burned down in 1906, but was then rebuilt in 1908 and still survives today; it’s not clear what benefit one has over the other, since both were still standing in the 1890s when the story takes place. The focus at on “microbio death” is a bit weirder:

“Don’t look so shaken up, old fellow! A veteran politician-fighter like you must have seen plenty of unmaskings before. I tell you, I never had even the start of a fever cure. But my studies had taken me into some queer places, and it was just my damned luck to listen to the stories of some still queerer people.
—Adolphe Danziger de Castro & H. P. Lovecraft, “The Last Test”

“Don’t look so shaken up, old fellow! A veteran politician-fighter like you must have seen plenty of unmaskings before. I tell you, I never had even the start of a fever cure. But my studies had taken me into some queer places, and it was just my damned luck to listen to the stories of some still queerer people who preach microbio death.
—Adolphe Danziger de Castro, “Surama of Atlantis,” Jewish American Archives (MS-348)

It seems to be an effort to provide some reason for Schuyler’s mania with watching people die from the black fever, but the phrase makes so little sense in context it’s hard to see what the author was getting at. If that phrase was a survival from a previous Lovecraft draft, dropping it for the simpler obsession on the power of life and death over a patient seems much cleaner.

The searchers had found the place only because of the chanting and the final cry. It had been close to five that morning, and after an all-night encampment the party had begun to pack up for its empty-handed return to the mines. Then somebody had heard faint rhythms in the distance, and knew that one of the noxious old native rituals was being howled from some lonely spot up the slope of the corpse-shaped mountain. They heard the same old names—Mictlanteuctli, Tonatiuh-Metzli, Cthulhutl, Ya-R’lyeh, and all the rest—but the queer thing was that some English words were mixed with them. Real white man’s English, and no greaser patter. Guided by the sound, they had hastened up the weed-entangled mountainside toward it, when after a spell of quiet the shriek had burst upon them. It was a terrible thing—a worse thing than any of them had ever heard before. There seemed to be some smoke, too, and a morbid acrid smell.

Then they stumbled on the cave, its entrance screened by scrub mesquites, but now emitting clouds of fetid smoke. It was lighted within, the horrible altars and grotesque images revealed flickeringly by candles which must have been changed less than a half-hour before; and on the gravelly floor lay the horror that made all the crowd reel backward. It was Feldon, head burned to a crisp by some odd device he had slipped over it—a kind of wire cage connected with a rather shaken-up battery which had evidently fallen to the floor from a nearby altar-pot. When the men saw it they exchanged glances, thinking of the “automatic electric executioner” Feldon had always boasted of inventing—the thing which everyone had rejected, but had tried to steal and copy. The papers were safe in Feldon’s open portmanteau which stood close by, and an hour later the column of searchers started back for No. 3 with a grisly burden on an improvised stretcher.
—Adolphe Danziger de Castro, “The Automatic Electric Executioner,” Jewish American Archives (MS-348)

Unlike “Surama of Atlantis,” the changes between the three texts of “The Automatic Electric Executioner”/“The Electric Executioner” are much more minor, although strangely a bit more complicated since there are three texts to work with, and in addition to the small but substantial changes, both of the typescripts in the de Castro Archive contain numerous typos and errors of spelling, as well as idiosyncratic formatting differences.

The 1930 text of “The Electric Executioner” in Weird Tales may be assumed to be the oldest of the texts; “The Automatic Electric Executioner” text is bound in a manuscript dated 1953, and may be assumed to be the newest. However, the undated, unbound typescript of “The Electric Executioner” does not sit neatly between the two; textually, the undated text and the Weird Tales text follow each other more closely than “The Automatic Electric Executioner” and the Weird Tales text, but the undated typescript contains several small but notable additions and rephrasing not in either of the other texts.

Most likely, this means that both “The Automatic Electric Executioner” and the unbound text of “The Electric Executioner” represent two different branches of transcription, both copied from the same source (either a copy of Weird Tales, or the typescript received from Lovecraft) and copied and altered at different times, without reference to one another. This would explain the differences and similarities between the three texts without requiring any hypothetical earlier drafts. (Why de Castro would type out “The Automatic Electric Executioner” fresh without making reference to the undated typescript, which has differences from the published version, is another questionbut not one with any ready answers.)

Of the substantial differences, they are few: the title of “The Automatic Electric Executioner” is a combination of “The Automatic Executioner” and “The Electric Executioner”; the story is set in 1899 in the standalone typescript of “The Electric Executioner” and 1889 in the others; the discovery of the body scene in “The Electric Executioner” is a bit longer, and there are some minor geographical differences.

S. T. Joshi in his annotations for this story notes that the San Mateo Mountains are actually in New Mexico; and this is apparently an error on Lovecraft’s part. De Castro’s “The Automatic Executioner” has the protagonist go to Mexico City, and from there towards Orizaba which is in the Sierra Madre Oriental range, although it is never named. “The Electric Executioner” standalone typescript has the nameless narrator headed both to Guadalajara and via Guadalajara to Mexico City—it isn’t clear why the change was made, but was obviously a bit of geographic confusion. In one text the narrator goes to the The Fonda Nacional (“National Inn”) and in the other to the Hotel Interbide; both were hotels in Mexico City. Why the change from one to the other is also unclear.

Something perhaps notable is that all three texts retain the odd racism against Mexicans expressed by Arthur Feldon in the story, which reflects something of Lovecraft’s own prejudices and understanding regarding Mexicans and Native Americans—a combination of racial and class prejudice. From De Castro’s other writings, he either agreed with these generally or at least appears to have felt no need to alter them, as the key phrases (“I hate greasers but I like Mexicans!” etc.) remain intact in every textual variation. Treatment of Mexican characters in “A Sacrifice to Science” (right down to using the slur “greaser”) would seem to suggest no major disagreement between de Castro and Lovecraft on the matter.

Aside from noting how difficult some of the Nahuatl and quasi-Nahuatl names appear to have been for de Castro to type, the most interesting part about the variations on “The Electric Executioner” is simply their existence. There isn’t any evidence that the undated typescript came from Lovecraft’s typewriter (at least, the number of typos would seem to argue against it, given Lovecraft’s punctiliousness), and the variations between the texts are comparatively minor. While it is not impossible that Lovecraft was responsible for some of the bits that don’t appear in the Weird Tales text, the changes are so small and affect so little of the story, compared to “Surama of Atlantis” that like as not the average reader would miss them on a read-through unless specifically pointed out.

As a point of hardcore Lovecraftian scholarship and nerdism, “Surama of Atlantis” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” provide interesting insight on how changes to Lovecraft stories can not work, and perhaps reflect on the difficult process of drafting and revision. That these stories have gone unpublished is perhaps not surprising; the audience for a variorum of such texts is small, and the rights would presumably remain with de Castro’s estate. But that they exist at all should interest and thrill Lovecraft fans: who knows what else may yet remain, in some dusty archive, or in an amateur journal not yet thoroughly picked-over?


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).